Category Archives: descriptive writing

Revising: Show Don’t Tell—But Not Always!

show_20and_20tellShow Don’t Tell. It’s the Genesis of the writing process, the tenet learned in grade school. Immerse your readers in a stew of their senses: see, hear, feel, taste, smell and touch. Amen.

But not so fast. It’s like that verse in Ecclesiastes 3 says: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Show don’t tell is no exception.

You can think of writing like applying makeup. Putting on just enough enhances one’s appearance, but too much can make you look like a waxy mold of a stringy, over-cooked ham. Good writers know that a manuscript isn’t finished until there is just the right balance of show and tell.

But how do you decide?

When revising your work, first read each paragraph and look for telling places where:

• You explain how a character feels,
• You use an abstract description,
• You tell about a conversation.

Girl With Computer Screen of Internal OrgansThen decide if these narrative passages need to be spiced up with some showing.

• Is your character’s feeling a strong one? If so, then describe it by showing how the character looks and acts.
• Is an abstract description enough? If not, then add some juicy images and raw details.
• Is it sufficient to tell about a conversation? If a conversation is important, add dialogue to further develop your characters and move the story along.

Next, put your revising gear in reverse and check each paragraph for showing places. Look for the Extreme 3Ds:

• Excessive drama. Remember the makeup analogy? Use just enough drama to enhance. Too much will pull readers away from the story.
• Excessive dialogue. When characters talk, their conversations should be realistic. Too much dialogue can mean that characters are telling too much of the story.
• Excessive description. Have you showed more than you have to? Sometimes, writers use too many words to describe. Look for wordy descriptions, and replace them with fewer and well-chosen words.

Writing is an art form. Clichés like show don’t tell have their place, but they don’t command the writing and revising process. Great writers know when dramatization is needed and in what measure. Do you?


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Filed under descriptive writing, Editing and proofreading, Uncategorized, Writing craft

How to Use the Bible to Practice Descriptive Writing

canva-tea,-drink-tea,-tea-glass,-cup,-bible,-faith,-open-macvrw_rvbuIf you’ve followed my blog for a while, you know that I freelance for Christian publishing companies. My work often sends me digging deep into the bible, thinking about its words, trying to imagine myself in its scenes. One thing I’ve noticed is the bible holds excellent examples of descriptive writing.  Many of its ancient authors revealed specific details using vivid and carefully selected words. They wove their words together not only for the purpose of reporting but also to entice readers to imagine while using all of their senses.

Read these examples from The Book of Isaiah.

“The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” (Isaiah 3:16 NIV)

“I will remain quiet and will look on from my dwelling place, like shimmering heat in the sunshine, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest.” (Isaiah 18:4 NIV)

“I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”’At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:1-4 NIV)

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12 NIV)

canva-man-in-a-blue-dress-shirt-and-bucket-hat-madgyearhwgA tried-and-true technique for practicing descriptive writing is to read and model well-written sentences and paragraphs. Have you ever tried using the bible as a model?

Below are two sentence starters. Add your own words to build a descriptive paragraph for each. Then look up the scriptures following the sentences to see what Isaiah wrote.

The Lord will take away all the women’s fine clothing and accessories . . .

(Isaiah 3:18-23)

The blacksmith takes a tool . . .

Isaiah 44:12)

This week, meditate on one of your favorite stories or scenes from the bible. Imagine yourself being the first to tell the story. What details would you include? What words and phrases could you use to catch readers’ attention and draw them into the scene.


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Filed under Bible, descriptive writing, Uncategorized