Show not tell – by Conor

One of my favorite writers (in English) is Chuck Palahniuk, the author of many books including Fight Club. I appreciate his work for many reasons but the greatest of all of them is because I think he understands the craft of writing. There was an essay I read by him one night, during a momentary bout of insomnia, that I’ve been trying to re-find ever since. It talked about how to be a better writer. He challenged you to print out a piece of your writing and highlight every “thought verb” (i.e. thinks, knows, feels, realizes, believes…) and find a way to portray this verb without actually using it. He feels that writing should be about creating a realistic situation from which the reader can draw conclusions. So rather than say “Mike felt like Carl didn’t like him” you would say “Carl would always smile at Mike as he walked past him in the hall, but the way his dark eyes narrowed as his face contorted into a smile, it always felt more threatening than friendly.” This theory changed the way I thought about writing, and now, re-reading my German work, I realize that I need to relearn this concept in another language. Telling Ahmet’s story I have relied too much on simply giving the information to the reader rather than guiding them to an assumption. For example there is a part of the story that describes Ahmet’s first month of school, but rather than paint the picture of exclusion that he felt, I simply told the reader in his voice “They all looked the same, I felt left out.” I’m hoping I will be able to strengthen my writing in German by applying this concept to it so that I can show the readers what he’s feeling, not tell them.

2 thoughts on “Show not tell – by Conor

  1. Taylor Griffith

    I agree with you 100% and have found the same problem in my own writing as well. When telling a story, there’s this urge to just tell the reader what happens, as if they’re able to see the scene the way you envision it in your head. But as my mentor has told me, it’s all about the details. Even if something seems obvious or it’s easier to just leave it up to the imagination, it’s more entertaining and compelling for the reader to see what’s happening word for word. It adds a different dynamic to your writing and helps the vision of your story come through more clearly. I too hope that my writing will eventually be rid of the plague of generalities. Knowing that it will be hard for me to do in English, I can only imagine the task you have ahead of you in doing so in German. I wish you the best of luck and support!

  2. nateurban2013

    That’s an awesome thought/ realization. I wonder though, with sentence structure like that, is it difficult to write? It seems like a lot of longer sentences with verb tense changes and whatnot.


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