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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Jessica Bell – How to Change Telling into Showing

How to Change Telling into Showing

by Jessica Bell

When I first started to write fiction and send my manuscripts out for feedback, the first and most frequent thing my readers said was SHOW, DON’T TELL.

“Okay. So how do I go about that?” I thought. “I’m not sure I understand how you can’t see it happening when I’m telling you it’s happening. What’s the difference?”

After years and years honing the craft of the elusive “show, don’t tell” rule, I thought it would be a good idea to write a book that helped YOU do the same.

Here’s a scene that is completely telling:

Tamara and Fran are having lunch at a café. They are seated outdoors. But it seems useless meeting at all when Fran is so flighty. It’s ridiculously frustrating talking to Fran when she’s like this—off in her own little world. She doesn’t even acknowledge what’s being said when Tamara raises her voice! Perhaps she’s in love.

Okay, can you identify which things we could be showing here?

What I think we can show here are the following attributes:



(be) in love


So with this in mind, let’s bring this scene to life with some showing:

“Can you pass the salt?” Tamara holds out her hand.

“Hmm?” Fran hums and looks across the road at the kids playing Frisbee.

“Hun? The salt.” Tamara glances at the kids, screws up her nose, and contorts her mouth to the left.

“Oh. Right.” Fran passes the ketchup.

Tamara groans and reaches across the table for the salt. As she leans over her plate, her blouse dips into the mayonnaise.

“Crap! I need a serviette.” Tamara points at the napkin holder. Francine is resting her chin in her palm, squinting at the sky, giggling to herself.


“Fran!” Tamara bangs her fist on the table. Crockery rattles.

Fran’s smile fades as she jolts upright. “Huh? What’s wrong?”

Tamara stands, scrapes her seat backward, reaches for a serviette, and shakes her head. “I can’t count on you for even the simplest of things, can I?”

Francine blinks.

Tamara dips a serviette into her glass of soda and rubs it on her breast. “So. Who’s the guy?”

“Tammie?” Francine sighs. “Have you ever wondered why we only see yellow butterflies in this area of town?”

What do you think? Would you have written something similar? Can you pinpoint how I’ve shown these specific attributes? Tell me in the comments.


If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written.

Jessica is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. She makes a living as a writer/editor for English Language Teaching Publishers worldwide, such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, MacMillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

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Genre – Non-Fiction / Writing Skills Reference

Rating – PG

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