Show, Don’t (Just) Tell (another update)

I’ve updated my handout on showing vs telling yet again.

NoIt Was Naptime: Show Don't (Just) TellThe little girl looked so tired that I knew it was naptime.

This sentence gets right to the point, but nothing about it engages the imagination or makes the reader want to keep reading.
MaybeThe brown-eyed little girl wore aplastic Viking cap, and her mouth was sticky from candy. Standing therein her dress-up clothes, she looked more tired than I had ever seen a child

look. But she was very stubborn, so I knew that I was about to face a


This version mentions the author’s reaction: thischild lookssurprisingly tired. It also offers a motive: the author must get her to

take a nap. But what does wearing a Viking cap or having brown eyes have

to do with being tired? These random details do give the reader a

little something to work with, but they don’t actually contribute to the

main point.

YesHer sleepy brown eyes hardened intored-rimmed slits. She cocked her plastic Viking helmet aggressively, thehorns sticking out only a little more than her curls.

One fistclutched a decapitated lollipop, the other a cardboard sword. She

leveled the point at my chest. “You mean dragon!” she growled. “You’ll never make me nap!”

The details provided in this version all SHOW thereader what’s at stake. You say to yourself, “Wow, that little girl isstubborn, and she sure needs that nap!”  I didn’t have to TELL you any

of those things. (Incidentally, now that I’ve added the details about

the sword and the dragon, the Viking hat makes sense, but the “brown” in

“sleepy brown eyes” could probably be cut.)

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