Thursday, November 3, 2016

NaNoWriMo: Writing Exercise for Showing v. Telling

This semester I’m co-teaching Creative Writing, and we just wrapped up my favorite unit—short fiction.

We always do a fun lesson on showing versus telling, a critical skill for any creative writer.

NaNo friends, as you’re chipping away at your daily word count, perhaps these tips will help:

Take whatever scene you’re working on.
  1. Show us the senses: What does your character see, hear, smell, taste, and touch?
  2. Show us the action: What is your character doing? What’s her motivation, conflict, tension?
  3. Shows us the feels: Don’t tell us your character is angry; let us see her face flush and her jaw clench. Don’t tell us she’s tired; let us see her rub her eyes, the words on the screen unfocused, her eyelids heavy and closing against her will.
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One of the fastest ways to know if you’re showing or telling is to check your verbs.

‘To be’ verbs tell us. (e.g.: am, are, is, was, were, be, being, been)

Action verbs show us.

In class, I gave my students the following paragraph and asked them to rewrite a scene, showing instead of telling.

Maybe you’d find the exercise as fun as they did?

Jane is a timid freshman at State University. The youngest of six children, she misses the comfort of her home and her small graduating class of twelve. Her new roommate, Carol, is nice, and although the young man in her freshman math class makes her blush, she is thinking of him more and more.
Carol says she should give him a sign, but Jane isn’t sure how to do that. College is so different from Small Town, America. But maybe it won’t be so bad after all.

Using what you’ve been told about Jane, Carol, and the intriguing classmate, write a more descriptive paragraph, an action scene, or a conversation with dialogue that demonstrates one of the following:
  • How Jane feels
  • What Jane’s dorm, roommate, or male classmate look like
  • What Jane decides to do
You have full license to write in whatever genre you wish. Is this a love story? The start of a mystery? A feel-good inspiration? Is it set in our world? Another world? Are these humans? Etc.

Put whatever twist you like, but be sure your scene is showing and not telling.

Jane unlocked the door to her dorm room and dropped her backpack next to the built-in, oak-colored desk that only masked the laminate particle board.

The memory of she and her five siblings framed in a pose in a field of white cotton bulbs welcomed her. She stared at the glass until at last she saw her reflection, reminding her of her new home, her new season. 

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