Read Time: 4 minutes

Welcome to the Saturday Storyteller, your co-pilot for lightspeed story creation – I’m like Chewbacca to your Han Solo, just bald and two feet shorter.

Here’s what I’ve got for you today: 

  • “Show, Don’t Tell” insights
  • 3 ChatGPT prompts
  • 6 examples

You’re already a master at “show, don’t tell.”

Consider this: How often do you get a sense of what someone is feeling or thinking without them explicitly telling you?

Silence speaks volumes. Body language reveals emotion. Maintaining eye contact while listening to a story expresses engagement and understanding.

Despite these everyday examples from our personal lives, many writers struggle to create emotional connections between their readers and characters.

In this article, we’ll explore the nuances of “show, don’t tell” to help you develop deeper, more thought-provoking connections with your readers.

BONUS: You’ll get three fiction writing prompts for ChatGPT to help you implement the “Show, Don’t Tell” technique.

Common Writer Mistakes When Engaging Readers

The problem is that writers often underestimate their readers.

Readers love being part of the creative process. They only need a limited amount of description or imagery to paint the rest.

Your real-life experiences demonstrate this.

Readers are much smarter than writers give them credit for.

So, writers frequently rely on explicitly stating characters’ emotions, thoughts, and motivations, expecting people to believe that’s how people really act.

This approach can limit readers’ opportunities to explore their own creativity and interpretations, leaving them with a passive and less engaging experience.

The Pitfalls of Overexplaining

Telling instead of showing also results in shallow character development.

By spoon-feeding readers with information, writers take away the readers’ chance to form their emotional responses and personal connections to the story.

In contrast, showing invites readers to engage their imaginations and empathize with characters, resulting in a more immersive and memorable experience.

Unlock Your “Show, Don’t Tell” Potential

A. Use vivid and sensory language.

Embrace the power of sensory language to evoke emotions and create an immersive experience for your readers.

By painting a vivid picture with words, you allow readers to feel the characters’ emotions and experiences firsthand.

“Show, Don’t Tell” Prompt #1 for ChatGPT:

“Portray a [Setting or Object] within [Insert Scene or Genre] using vivid language that appeals to the reader’s five senses, immersing them in the story’s world and enhancing their experience.”

B. Focus on actions and reactions.

Depict characters’ emotions and motivations through their actions and reactions, rather than just describing them.

This approach not only reveals the characters’ true nature but also creates a more dynamic and engaging narrative.

“Show, Don’t Tell” Prompt #2 for ChatGPT:

“Write a scene in a [Genre] story where a character experiences the strong emotion of [Insert Emotion]. Instead of stating the emotion directly, show it through the character’s actions, reactions, and body language.”

C. Use dialogue effectively.

Well-crafted dialogue can convey characters’ emotions, thoughts, and intentions without explicitly stating them.

Through subtle cues in speech and tone, readers can infer the underlying feelings and motivations of the characters.

“Show, Don’t Tell” Prompt #3 for ChatGPT:

“Craft a conversation between two characters in a [Genre] story that reveals their emotions, thoughts, and intentions. Use subtle cues in their speech and tone, allowing readers to infer the characters’ underlying feelings and motivations without stating them outright.”

Bestselling and Blockbuster Examples

Now, let’s explore specific examples from bestselling novels and blockbuster films that showcase the “Show, Don’t Tell” technique:

  1. In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (novel by J.K. Rowling), during the Sorting Hat ceremony, instead of stating that Harry is nervous, she writes, “Harry’s heart gave a horrible jolt.” This vivid description allows readers to experience Harry’s anxiety.
  2. In “The Hunger Games” (novel by Suzanne Collins), when Katniss volunteers as tribute to save her sister, the author doesn’t explicitly state Katniss’s love for Prim. Instead, her willingness to sacrifice herself demonstrates her deep affection and protective instincts.
  3. In “Dune” (novel by Frank Herbert), when Paul Atreides faces the test of the Gom Jabbar, his ability to withstand pain without flinching shows his inner strength and self-discipline. The reader isn’t told that Paul is strong; instead, they witness his resilience through his actions.
  4. In “Gone Girl” (novel by Gillian Flynn), during the scene in which Nick discovers a woodshed full of items, including a wig, clothing, a diary, a large sum of cash, and a gun with ammunition, the stark contrast between Amy’s diary entries portraying a loving wife and the evidence of her meticulous, vengeful planning, reveals her true nature as an unreliable narrator and a manipulative character.
  5. In “Blade Runner” (screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples), during the iconic “tears in rain” monologue, Roy Batty’s existential crisis and his yearning for life are revealed through his poignant speech and contemplative demeanor, rather than telling viewers how he feels about his existence.
  6. In “Get Out” (written and directed by Jordan Peele), during the garden party scene, the unsettling atmosphere and underlying racial tensions are depicted through Chris’s interactions with the seemingly friendly suburban family, who ask invasive questions and make inappropriate remarks.

Become the Lucid Storyteller You’re Meant to Be

By implementing and studying these insights, prompts, and examples of the “Show, Don’t Tell” technique, you can create emotional connections with readers that resonate long after they’ve finished your story.

Remember, the key is to immerse readers in the characters’ world by showing their emotions, thoughts, and motivations through vivid language, actions, and dialogue.

This approach will not only elevate your storytelling but also leave a lasting impression on your readers, helping you create fiction that connects on a deeper level.

That’s it for this Saturday.

If TSS expands your senses in imaginary worlds, don’t just tell it, show it by sharing it with someone.

See ya next week!

— Dave