ENGLISH LESSON: WRITING WELL THROUGH SHOW VERSUS TELL

In the world of communication, it is important that we are proficient in expressing our ideas.  It is already a given that we should constantly widen our vocabulary by learning new words and phrases.  However, being fluent in the English language is not enough.  Knowledge in grammar, sentence structure, and vocabulary are not enough to be an attractive writer.

Let us take a case of contrast between two people who are already fluent in the English language.  One is a professional writer, let’s say, a journalist or a novelisT, while the other is an ordinary person who doesn’t usually write.  If you have each them write an essay of the same topic or the same thesis statement, a reader may notice a difference in style, mood, content, and word usage in their essays.  The novelist would use simple words; yet, these words come to life with exquisite descriptive language.  The simple writer, on the other hand, may have used adjectives, but the description would come out vague.

Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

To illustrate my analysis above, here are two examples of the same situation and same topic:

  1. The man looks really angry.
  2. The man’s face turned bright red. His brows almost touched each other, creating two lines straight down. His lips tightened as his eyes widened.

Of the two examples, which one do you think is the novelist?  If you guessed the second one, you are right.  As you can see, both examples depict an angry man.  Both examples also use very common words; they are not complicated to understand. Yet, the second example is visual.  It moves the imagination.  The difference is that example one only tells; while the other example shows. This is what is known as descriptive writer.

Learning how to play with words is also important.  When we use descriptive language, we not only tell what the situation is, we also make the reader or listener sense it (see, smell, taste, feel, hear)–creating a movie in the mind’s eye. It is as if the reader or listener is really there to witness it.

To achieve this effect, I highly suggest using figurative language.  You may even ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Did I provide enough details for the reader to see a full picture?
  2. Did I use figurative language that invoke the five senses or the emotion?
  3. Will the reader be able to identify with the subject or situation that I intend to describe?

An effective speaker or writer always keeps the audience or reader in mind from the introduction to the conclusion of their piece, constantly thinking of ways to spark the imagination.  It also helps if you start with the general description then build it up to specific description. This way, the reader does not get confused what you are describing.