Sunday Writing Essential (SunWE, 01/26/14, Show and Tell)

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on January 26, 2014 0 Comments

Sunday Writing Essential (SunWE, 01/26/14, Show and Tell)


I thought I might throw you an easy challenge this week, but then I looked at the calendar. Next week is Groundhog Day, so I’m saving the easy one until then for a holiday themed challenge.

Instead, this week I’m moving up my planned challenge on the infamous writer’s rule: Show, Don’t Tell. Or as I like to call it, the Dick and Jane rule.

Why Dick and Jane you may ask? Because way, way back in the Dark Ages there existed a educational reading tool, the Dick and Jane Books, designed to teach children to read. They went something like this:

See Dick run.

See Jane run.

See Spot run.

Funny Dick. Funny Jane. Funny, funny Spot.


Reading at a pretty basic level, right?

Writers that don’t understand the “show, don’t tell” rule are writing at a basic level. The prose never elevates from a passive viewpoint, and keeps the reader at arm’s length from the story. Here’s a simplified Dick and Jane example:

Dick was running.

Jane was screaming.

Spot was barking.

The werewolf was coming.

Do you see the common thread? The word “was”. “Was” is not a writer’s friend (neither is “had”, and a few other words, but we’re concentrating on “was” today). These sentences are telling the reader what is happening, pulling the reader away from the intimacy of the narrative.

Now, I’ll rewrite the above sentences without the “was”.

Dick ran.

Jane screamed.

Spot barked.

The werewolf approached.

Now we have action, now we are showing.


Of course you can’t write choppy little sentences as I’ve shown in the examples. You need a setting, flair, description, some tension. So here’s where I fit it all together into a scene:

Dick ran, terrified, his heart pounding, not caring he abandoned his friends. Jane screamed, paralysed by her fear, her voice echoing through the pine trees. Spot barked and growled, ready to fight. The werewolf approached from the forest shadows, snarling, and drool dripped from its fangs.

Now the scene has action, some emotion (“terrified”, “paralysed by her fear”), there’s a setting (“the pine trees”, “the forest”), and tension, with a drooling snarling werewolf about to do who knows what.


Essentially what you need to do with “show, don’t tell” is plunk your reader inside your story, give them an immediate visual of what’s happening. You don’t want them outside looking in.

Here’s some more “Dick and Jane” examples of “Show, Don’t Tell”:


His name was Dick. He sat in his car. The sun was setting. His fingers were tapping on the steering wheel. The car radio was playing loud music. Suddenly he saw something outside. It was a shadow and it moved in front of the car.


Dick lounged in his car, and stared at the golden tinged sunset. His fingers drummed on the steering wheel as rock music blared from the car radio and his head bobbed in time to the beat. Sudden movement outside caught his attention and he gawked through the windshield. An undulating shadow swirled past the front of the car, its form outlined in the fading light.



Jane was running and she was scared. She ran through the woods with a beast chasing her. She was looking over her shoulder as she ran. Her heart was pounding and she was breathing hard. She could hear the beast growling behind her and she tried to move faster.


Jane raced through the woods; her terror pushed her to escape the beast that chased her. Panicked glances over her shoulder showed her nothing, yet she heard its growls growing closer. Her lungs struggled to work, heaving in pain, her breath came as laboured gasps for air, her heart thumped wildly, and she ran for her life.


The Challenge:

Write a story, fiction or non-fiction (again, no poetry for this one) and demonstrate the rule, “show, don’t tell”. You may only use the word “was” once, and if you can write the story without one “was” you get bonus marks.


The List of Things to Do:

  • Add this Challenge Statement to the post: Write a story, fiction or non-fiction (again, no poetry for this one) and demonstrate the rule, “show, don’t tell”. You may only use the word “was” once, and if you can write the story without one “was” you get bonus marks.
  • Put (SunWE, 01/26/14, Show and Tell) in your post title.
  • Be sure to tag your post with SunWE, Gather Writing Essential, and Show and Tell.
  • Then post it to Gather Writing Essential. You can also comment below with the link to your post to ensure I find it.
  • And try to post it by next Sunday.


There is also a limit of three submissions from each member per day which you can follow or ignore at your discretion.


There’s been some discussion lately over comments and critiques, so I thought I’d share my thoughts:

As a general rule, I usually leave a simple comment on posts, perhaps a thought or two on something particular if it strikes my fancy. However, I will happily give a critique if asked. So if you want more detailed input on a post from me, feel free to request it.


And here are the wonderful posts I found for last week’s Truth and Lies challenge:

Two Birthday Stories (SunWE, 01/19/14, Truth and Lies) by Len Maxwell

(SunWE, 01/19/14, Truth and Lies) The School Bus by Pam Brittain

Two Short-shorts by Doug Westberg: (SunWE, 01/19/14, Truth and Lies) by Doug Westberg

SunWe, 1,19,14/ Truth and Lies/ Sixty Sixth Birthday by Sharon P.


If I missed yours, please let me know.


About the Author ()

I'm from Nova Scotia, Canada and I have been practicing the craft of writing for several years, periodically interrupted by pesky events from life. I have independently published several books in the fantasy, poetry and non-fiction genres.My interest

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