CoboCards App FAQ & Wishes Feedback
Language: English Language
Sign up for free  Login

Get these flashcards, study & pass exams. For free! Even on iPhone/Android!

Enter your e-mail address and import flashcard set for free.  
All main topics / English / Writing

Three Ways to Show Instead of Tell a Story (5 Cards)

Say thanks
Writing Tips
Many aspiring online essay writers are advised to show, not tell a story. But what does that mean and how can this goal be accomplished?

The difference between “showing” and “telling” in a written work is similar to watching a movie as opposed to being simply told the story behind it. Telling rather than showing these events cheats the reader off the pleasure of experiencing the story as it gradually unfolds in the imagination.
Keep Background Information to a Minimum
One way to make sure a story is shown rather than told is to get rid of “dead-wood”. These are the long passages writers love to sneak in that don’t serve many purposes to the telling of the story.

Many beginning writers start a story with a long explanation about the main character, where he went to school, the last three places he lived, his feelings about his mother and siblings. These details can be threaded in if necessary and only if they serve a purpose. But the place for along family history is never the first chapter.

Readers don’t need to know every detail of a character’s life. The backstory of a character’s life should be in the biography sheet the writer keeps referring to, not in the actual story. The author needs to know these details so that a few keen observations can be inserted into the story in just the right places to show characterization. The secret is to tell only what needs to be known so the reader can get a full sense of the character. Too much information will only bog the story down and make the reader lose interest.
Use Active Sentence Construction
Active voice puts the story in the here and now, while passive voice creates distance. Active sentence construction puts the one doing the action before the verb, such as “The cops chased John down the street.” as opposed to “John was chased down the street by the cops.”

A novel should read like an entertaining story, not a college dissertation. Watch for excessive use of the verb to be and its forms am, is, are, was, and were. Try leaving them out to form more active sentences
Limit the Use of Flashbacks
Readers want to know what is happening now, not what happened at some time in the past. Nothing slows down a story as much as a flashback set in the wrong place, right in the heart of the action. It physically removes the reader and takes them somewhere else.

Even worse is a flashback was written in a passive voice. Lapsing into the past perfect tense and staying there is a real story-stopper. If a flashback is absolutely necessary, keep it brief, italicize or set it apart, and use the past tense, not past perfect. “He had a bad life so far...” as opposed to “He had had a bad life so far...”

Flashbacks should be used sparingly, and only if absolutely necessary to the story. It is much better to thread in details from the past in the form of brief thought or conversation with other characters than in flashback
Warning Signs that the Writer is Lapsing into Telling the Story
Here are some warning signs that a writer may be telling a story rather than letting it naturally unfold:
  • excessive backstory
  • too much use of “was” and passive voice
  • wooden passages that read like a term paper or dissertation
  • long passages were written in flashback

Readers may also enjoy the writing articles Adding Conflict to Your Novel, Fill In Those Plot Holes and Flashbacks—How and When to Use Them.
Flashcard set info:
Author: OtisAnderson
Main topic: English
Topic: Writing
City: Atlanta
Published: 18.02.2021
Tags: writing skills
Card tags:
All cards (5)
no tags
Report abuse




Forgot password?
Deutsch  English