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.

  • Led Garcia

    I was reading this post while I was wiggling my feet from side to side, sitting on the plastic chair at the living room area of my flat. To relief my stomach aches as I was absorbing the every piece of advice of the blog, I took a banana from my room that I bought 5 days ago, which was too sweet since the first pick I had eaten the produce.

    Haha. I got a hard time to compose this. I hope I could practice more descriptive writing. I think, I should master the expressive words and phrases by doing more practice.

    • It’s hard at first because you are not used to it. I use this module in my classes as well. Were you still in QC when I was teaching this module? Or you had graduated by then?

      • Led Garcia

        I wasn’t there. Graduated? No, I will go back to learn more…haha

        • Hahaha. You will be a lifelong learner, which is how it should be. Let me know when you come back.

  • P’pao Paoz

    I think to improve your writing you really need to write something in English more or less every day. In my experience, it’s best not to be too hard on yourself, but just write a few lines about what you did or about your opinion of something. If you’re studying for an exam, you probably need to do more writing, perhaps writing the answer to an exam question at least twice a week.

  • Vinz San Juan

    Novelists describe their stories vividly. I’ve been reading a lot of novels since I was in grade school and one of my techniques in order to understand the novel itself is imagine the plot instead of just reading the words. It helped me a lot especially when the ideas are very descriptive. That’s why I’m able to distinguish a journalist from a novelist.

  • Julia Borisenko

    Agreed! Good vocabulary, knowledge of grammar and language fluency are mere tools. Needless to say, tools are important but if one doesn’t know how to use them elegantly the desired result can be totally different

  • Hisury

    When I would write something before, I was always lazy to start.

    • Well, I think most students are lazy when it comes to writing. However, if we find great ways to enjoy writing, it would be so much easier to start and finish.