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Writing a Support Letter: Show, Don’t Tell

All writers have been told this. It’s maybe the most basic instruction given.

“Show, don’t tell” is to take the reader into the event with you. You aren’t telling about something. You’re taking us there with you. You don’t write about feelings; you write feelings.

Here are two versions of the same event.

Daphne and I did yard work. It was hot. We drank water when we’d finished.

Daphne clipped the rose bush and bled from her shoulders. I mowed. Then we both pulled weeds from the cracks of the sidewalk. We chose noontime on a 96-degree Tuesday for our labor. Dirt stuck like flies to our glistening arms and legs. We wiped our brows with gloved backs-of-wrists and drank cucumber water from sweating glasses, whose condensation dripped down our happy chins.

Details are the currency of showing. Be specific. Give concrete details. In these examples, you can envision more of the scene with each progressive sentence:

We picked flowers on the side of the road.
We picked purple and yellow flowers on the side of the road.
We picked violets and daisies on the side of the road.

We took food to the street on our visit.
We took hot chocolate and cheese sandwiches to the street on our visit Monday.
We carried a five-gallon thermos of hot chocolate and two big Ziplocs of cheese sandwiches to our street visit last Monday night.

Remember that each detail you add increases the specificity of your scene, but too many details about unimportant elements can bog down your piece. You get to decide which details are important and which aren’t.

Do you have a favorite example of showing versus telling?

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