Structuring Sentences to Use More Showing

June 24, 2013

Telling sentences begin like this:  I stand…  Sara looks around…  He waits with a…   We wish …   I sit here…Bob looks to the …

These are forms of you the writer telling the reader about the character. We can hear you saying these words. Your voice is at the forefront.

That may be fine for one line of narration. But to slip into scenes that show you  have to make a shift in your writing.  A writer’s voice needs to fade into the background. She needs to narrate her story from there.

This is done by using less Telling and by structuring sentences using more showing

Telling words to consider in your edits:

I (or she, he, they, etc) —when you are telling us what your character did (I stand… She looks …etc)

Near, here, there —when you are telling us your character’s location in her surroundings (I wait here… She looks there…etc)

With —when you mean a way something is occurring (I wait with a ferocious grin, …She stands with tears in her eyes)

When it comes to the ‘placement’ words: near, there, here, try reading the sentence without those words. It should make sense even with taking them out.


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Look at your sentence structure (the way you arrange your sentences). Try to move action into your telling sentences. You may find combining 2 lines works. Or you may have to shuffle things around:


I close my eyes. My head leans against the rough wall.


Leaning my head against the rough wall, I close my eyes.


If you use metaphors or similes you might be writing like this:


News about the two dead bodies found in the pool has been spreading like wild fire.

Try moving these phrases at the beginning of your sentence:


Like wild fire, news about the two dead bodies found in the pool began spreading.


Starting a description with an ‘a’ and writing about your character’s eyes – are two more Telling modes of writing.

Finding an –ing to add (and rearranging a line) sometimes helps show things more clearly:


A hollow-eyed peddler leans forward from his rickshaw… or Sharon, wide eyed, nods and I fidget in my seat…


Leaning forward in his rickshaw, the hollow-eyed peddler … or Sharon nods, wide eyed, at me fidgeting in my seat…


Eve lies flat on her bed and dabs her face with a damp cloth.


Eve, flat on her bed, dabs her face with a damp cloth.


Taking the ‘I’ (or her or character name) out of a Telling sentence, then rearranging what’s left:


My fingers tremble, I almost tear the thin paper in my haste.


In my haste my trembling fingers nearly tear the thin paper.


How to make these edit decisions:

First ask yourself: What is my character doing?  Am I telling the reader about the character’s body action –and not showing it? Instead of telling it using ‘I’ or ‘her’, the ‘with’ or those ‘placement words’, how can I show it more visually? If I want to keep an ‘I’ sentence, what more can I write about an action to show it more visually?


Stories with a thousand eyes

Other ways we end up telling about how a character is feeling has to do with eyes, pulse, heartbeat, breathing, blood in veins.

The sight drives up my pulse…Causes my heart to … My blood slows in my veins…My breathing is …

But remember, that is just more body movement. You haven’t reached motivation or emotion yet. If your pulse is racing…heart is pounding…blood or breath is…etc, etc, it’s because some event is causing your character to react. But using‘state of being verbs’ or their helpers (is, am, are, had, has, were, was) won’t show us that reaction in physical, visual ways. Only action verbs can do that.


I didn’t know how to breath for a second. I was in shock. Noting my heartbeat in my chest. My eyes wide.


The shock came like a slap I couldn’t duckIt stung long after her words faded.

Instead of telling us about your blood, breath, heart, eyes or pulse –Show what your character’s reacting to—in actions; moving or reacting in physical, visual ways.


4 Responses to “Structuring Sentences to Use More Showing”

  1. Kyo Says:

    Very informative and something to remember. Some of your points and ideas I had not thought of from a writers point of view so I will keep these in mind! I am rather forgetful and do tend to tell what my character is doing rather than showing it.

    • ejrunyon Says:

      I think we all write our first drafts in a way that is too telling, not enough showing. It’s like we’re too busy capturing images to worry yet. So, It’s in the revisions (the re-vision-ing) that the edits bring things back into showing more.
      Thanks for your comment.

  2. darsword Says:

    Reblogged this on Darswords and commented:
    I must start using some of these suggestions! Thank you, E.J. Runyon for this lesson.

  3. darsword Says:

    Thanks for the lesson! I am reblogging so as to remind myself in the future.

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