Show, not Tell – how very true

Last weekend, Louise Cusack, presented a workshop to our group. It was a great day, we all took plenty of notes, and worked our way through many thought provoking exercises to better understand our character. I admit I struggled with them and on the way home I wondered what my answers would be if I put me to the test. Would I struggle as much? We came prepared with our stories, we had our Goal, Motivation & Conflicts worked out for our characters, and we learnt how to better work out our subplots to strengthen our stories. We also spent time discussing viewpoint and showing rather than telling. I walked out of that workshop thinking about the showing component of my story and the part the five senses play – how they see, hear, smell, taste and touch. To capture your character’s essence you show them in:

Action – whatever they do

Dialogue – what they say and how they speak

Internal thoughts – anything they think

Internal emotion – what they feel

Description – of what they see, hear, smell, taste, or touch.

Two things struck me:

  1. I have to imagine any of these components for my character; and
  2. What is my own Goal Motivation & Conflict?

We spend so many hours a week in a safe routine that our own experiences are either forgotten or muted by that routine. We put our characters into some incredulous situations, with some hunky spunky heroes and our heroine has attitude – she’s feisty – and marvel at how our heroine manages to get out of one sticky situation after another, improve her lot and keep the man of her dreams.

When are we ourselves ever put to the test, to truly understand what our heroine has gone through? We imagine it, yes, but in our daily, weekly and yearly life, in that predictable routine we’ve created – when did we last experience even a glimmer of what our heroine has? For me, I have to recall emotions and memories from my travelling years – over 30 years ago – and the times have changed. The heroines of today have ambitions and with it careers, and rather than travel extensively, they go to Europe or America via workplace secondments or seeking higher education and travel during that time away.

I can’t do all the fantastic things I have my heroines do, but I can give her what I do know, and those components of living can be shown in her daily routine of life, that part of life none of us can do without.

From now on I will try to:

  • Surround my characters with people who love them.
  • Let my characters do something ‘out of character’ for either the fun of it, or the spontaneity of it and see where it takes them, and how they deal with the outcome.
  • Show that they care (eg exercising/eating healthily or not) about themselves in a daily routine or how they care about their friends, bosses and strangers.
  • Allow them an opportunity to open their mind (and heart) to new experiences.

As for my own Goal, Motivation and Conflict – that’s proven to be a tough one to answer. I think all those parts are movable and it will forever remain a work-in-progress with shifting goals as each of those components changes. The conflicts list is very different. It’s growing, it’s very real and the longest of my three lists. How I deal with them will be the true test. I have decided to Show, Not Tell myself what my GMC is, because in the end I just switch off when I tell myself the same thing over and over.

Conflicts deserve better treatment than to be put in the ‘too hard to deal with now’ basket. Our heroines do not procrastinate and ignore any of their conflicts, so neither should we.

What I’ve learned about Conflicts will not only help me deal with them, but also my heroines.


  • Are much more than a simple disagreements
  • They fester when ignored
  • Our response is largely based on our view of our world – our perceptions
  • Bring out strong emotions
  • Once resolved, allow for an opportunity and change

There are so many truisms we’re taught growing up, but there’s one truism I’m working on, as are my heroines, and that is, it’s a good policy to show, not tell.


2 thoughts on “Show, not Tell – how very true

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