WTT: Don’t Tell Me The Sun Is Shining

It’s the classic: show me don’t tell me.

It’s also a cop out in your writing. Oh, sure, it’s factual too. The sun is indeed shining. Are the birds chirping as well?

Chuck Palahniuk’s article on Lit Reactor says it very well. You’ll have to “un-pack” the description. This photo for example. Try describing it at face value. I came up with:

  • The sun is shining.
  • The grass is green.
  • There are few clouds.
  • The sky is blue.
  • There might be trees in the distance I’m not sure.

Can you imagine if all descriptions were written this way? “The sun shone on the street. The street was black. I walked on it.” Wow, how enthralling.

Good writing incorporates feelings and touches as many senses in the reader as possible.

Look at this next picture. Let’s try to write a scene in it by appealing to the five senses: touch, sight, taste, hearing, and smell. Whenever you are describing a setting you should include at least two senses. Here’s my scene, you can post yours in the comments:

The cold air forced its way through my jeans and leggings. My sneakers, obviously not meant for walking a mile in snow, were soaked through to my feet. My feet squished with every step and cold water kept my toes decidedly numb. In the distance, amidst the storm, I saw a street light. My shoulders warmed at the idea of being out of the darkness and I made my way to the bench beneath the light.

So let’s see… I’ve appealed to sight, touch, sound. I could always mentioned the crisp smell of snow and have my narrator eat it for the last two.  You’ll also notice one other key fact about my brief passage:

THERE ARE NO THOUGHT VERBS!

There was no instance of “I feel cold” nor “I thought about getting warm,” but the reader knows the narrator is cold. I showed it was cold. It’s much more effective than telling you.

By J. M. Tuckerman

J.M.Tuckerman is a neurodivergent writer with a big education. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, an MA in Writing, and a BA in Writing Arts (specializing in Creative Writing, New Media Writing, and Publication; concentrating in New Media Production), which she somehow managed to earn despite her three very loud and large dogs. Jessica was lucky enough to intern at Quirk Books and Picador, USA while earning her master’s degrees. Her service dog, Ringo, is very proud of all that she has accomplished and hopes to be on a back cover of a published book with her very soon. An avid reader, writer, and lover of young adult and middle-grade literature, Jessica’s bookshelf is overflowing with hardbacks, paperbacks, and a million half-filled notebooks. She is a proud fur-mommy to two lab/st-bernard littermates, a retriever-mix service dog, and one orange little hobgoblin cat, all of whom have made very audible appearances on the Booked All Night podcast.