Showing = Reader’s Experience – Part 2 – Two Gems

image by SarahRichterArt

Welcome again editor Vie Herlocker in her two-part series on showing versus telling. Learn more about Vie at the end of her post. Here’s Vie:

New writers often ask me what showing instead of telling means. In my search for resources to help them better understand the concept, I found two gems: 

I’ll share one feature from each book.


Image by Mysticsartdesign

Gerth uses a series of comparisons to define “showing and telling.”  I found her description to be quite helpful in dispelling the mystery of the elusive beast:

  1. Telling provides the author’s conclusions and interpretations. Showing lets readers think for themselves.
  2. Telling gives the reader a secondhand report like a newspaper account. Showing allows readers to experience through the character’s five senses. 
  3. Telling summarizes past events or gives general statements. Showing places readers in real time scenes with action, dialogue, dramatization.
  4. Telling is abstract. Showing uses concrete, specific details.
  5. Telling gives facts. Showing evokes emotions.
  6. Telling distances readers from the story events. Showing makes readers active participants.


Hardy’s chapter on identifying telling intrigued me. She presents seven tell categories and notes multiple red flag words associated with them. Her detailed examples illustrate how to move from telling to showing. I’ll share just one of Hardy’s red flag words under each category—and will include examples of my own. 

1. Motivational Tells: these tell a motivation that the reader could figure out from the action. 

  • infinitives (to + verb)

Telling: Shirl leaned over to get her cup off the counter. 

Showing: Shirl leaned over and got her cup off the counter.

2. Emotional Tells: these combine an emotion with a red flag word, like “in fear,” “in anger,” etc.

  • in
image by Tris0

Telling: The softball landed at Mr. Green’s feet. He shook his fist in anger at the kids next door. 

Showing: The softball landed at Mr. Green’s feet. He shook his fist at the kids next door, then pocketed the ball.

3. Mental Tells: these tell us what’s going on in the character’s mind.

  • realized

Telling: Fred turned the key in the ignition. Not even a sputter. He realized the battery was dead.

Showing: Fred turned the key in the ignition. Not even a sputter. The battery was dead.

4. Stage Direction Tells: these tells explain the action as a director or script might do and can introduce sequence errors or give information before it happens. (This category can be quite subtle, and each red flag word has specific issues.) 

  • when 
image by isakarakus

Telling: James closed the gate when the stray dog came into the yard. 

Showing: The stray dog moseyed into the yard. James closed the gate to keep him contained. 

5. Descriptive Tells: these tell what the character sensed. (This is often called “filtering.”)

  • felt

Telling: She felt the cold wind through her thin jacket. 

Showing: The frigid wind pierced her thin jacket.

6. Passive Tells: yep, the plain old passive constructions.

  • was

Telling: The table was set by Fran. 

Showing: Fran adjusted the tablecloth, then placed the good china and the silverware on the table.

7. Adverbs and Telling: while not all adverbs are telling, they can signal possible telling passages.


My copies of these books are highlighted and filled with sticky notes. Consider adding Sandra Gerth’s and Janice Hardy’s books to your reference collection as well. Both are quick reads, budget-priced, and packed with useful information.  

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Vie Herlocker is the associate editor for Surry Living Magazine in Mt. Airy, NC. Her experience includes ten years as executive editor of Sonfire Media/Taberah Press and six years reviewing books for Blue Ink Reviews. 

Vie is a member of the Christian Editor Connection, PEN, ACFW, ACW, and WordWeavers. She received the 2017 Christian Editors Network Excellence in Editing Award for a nonfiction book.  In 2018, a book she edited won the Selah Award for YA fiction at Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. 

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Vie was also the editor for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.

8 Tips in Writing Deep Point of View

image by geralt
image by geralt

Whether you write in first, second, or third person, you can increase intimacy between reader and character by writing in deep point of view* (DPOV).

Tip 1: In DPOV, we see, smell, hear, feel, and taste only what the POV character (POVC) senses. We’re privy to only her thoughts.

Tip 2: DPOV is used in a POVC’s thoughts, not dialogue. The POVC’s actions and the way he experiences his surroundings are written with his POV involved. His actions and thoughts are linear; stimuli precede his reactions.


image by geralt
image by geralt

Sam took great pleasure in his meal. He planted a heaping spoonful of corn on his plate after Ann passed him the creamed corn. He glanced up from shoveling in corn. Ann stared at him, smiling.

Ann passed Sam the creamed corn. He planted a heaping spoonful on his plate. What a feast. He sampled the mashed potatoes. Nothing could be creamier. He sank his teeth into a fried chicken breast, and closed his eyes. To die for. If only mom could cook like this. He glanced up from shoveling in corn. Ann stared at him, smiling.

Tip 3: DPOV isn’t a flow of internal monologue or using italicized direct thoughts.

Tip 4: You rarely say to yourself, I:

  • thought
  • felt
  • wondered
  • realized
  • decided
  • wished
  • hoped

So, DPOV doesn’t state these. POVCs merely do them.


He thought Mary was mean. He wished she’d leave town, but he realized she wouldn’t. He’d avoid the battle-ax, he decided.

Mary was mean. If only she’d leave town. No way would that happen. From now on, he’d avoid the battle-ax.

Tip 5: Don’t name a feeling. Instead, give thoughts, actions, and behaviors that accompany the feeling.


portrait-53899_1280Bob felt sad his granddaughter didn’t want to visit anymore

Bob ran his fingers over Nell’s sweet face in her school photo. Why’d she have to grow up and prefer her friends to riding the tractor with Grandpa? He pulled off his glasses and wiped away the mist that had formed on the lenses.

Tip 6: Don’t use in or with to name feelings or attitudes.


Maud spoke harshly to the child. Jack looked at Maud with disdain.

Maud spoke harshly to the child. Jack drew himself to his full height. He arched his eyebrow, curled his upper lip, and glared at Maud. Was she getting his message? His dog had more tact than the shrew.

Tip 7: Don’t state that POVCs are using their senses.


I heard the stairs creak. I turned toward the staircase.

The stairs creaked. I turned toward the staircase.

Tip 8: Avoid made, caused, and gave as a way of telling.


image by Alexas_Fotos
image by Alexas_Fotos

I tiptoed into Carl’s empty bedroom. Suddenly his alarm clock sounded and made me jump. I thought I’d set off the security system.

I tiptoed into Carl’s empty bedroom. Brrring! Brrring! I jumped and spun in every direction. Had I set off the security system? No. Too close. I clamped my hand on Carl’s alarm clock.

For more examples of DPOV click the link.

Write in deep point of view & create intimacy between reader & character. Click to tweet.

What keeps you from writing in DPOV?

* I recommend Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Elizabeth Nelson.

What 5 Experts Say About Writing Story Settings

“Many early-career authors treat setting as merely an element of the background – an incidental necessity, maybe, but a tertiary craft concern when compared to plot or character development or dialogue.”
—Jacob M. Appel “Know Your Place” Writer’s Digest November/December 2013

image by KreativeHexenkueche
image by KreativeHexenkueche

Let’s get started:

  1. Jacob M. Appel – “Know Your Place” (Writer’s Digest November/December 2013).

Appel holds:

  • Stories should reveal the setting by the second sentence unless there’s a convincing reason not to.
  • Stories should be set in places the writer understands well. The slightest errant details jar readers. He reminds writers that what’s familiar to them may be exotic to readers.
  • image by Unsplash
    image by Unsplash

    Authors must do three things:

º Orient the reader – don’t waste the reader’s energy in his trying to figure out where he is. (See this post on grounding the reader.)

º Awe the reader – with knowledge of accurate plants, animals, architecture, furniture, and “distinctive diction and syntax.” Appel says, “The magic lies in the subtle details, not the strange environs.” 

º Trap the reader – Appel suggests that a passage describing a setting is an easy way to slow the pace to build suspense, or anticipation of a surprise.

  1. Dwight V. Swain – Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Swain instructs writers to remember these key points about setting.

  • The reader has not been there. So, Swain says to paint the setting in full color and enough pertinent details to bring the setting alive for the reader.
  • image myMarionF
    image myMarionF
    The world is sensory. Swain says to build the setting through what’s seen, heard, smelled, touched, and tasted. He says analogies are particularly important – perceived likenesses between two things using metaphors or similes.


  • The world is subjective. Depending on the characters’ objectives, attitudes, and pasts, they’ll react to their surroundings in unique ways.

3. Renni Browne and Dave King. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

Browne and King suggest that, because most of today’s readers prefer more concise literature, writers should give readers only enough detail to assist them in imagining the setting for themselves


I don’t think this’s necessarily contrary to what Appel and Swain have said. I interpret Browne and King to say setting is important, but don’t bore the reader with details they can already picture.



  1. James Scott Bell – Plot & Structure.

Bell asks, in the reader’s behalf, if the writer can take him some place he’s never been before, to bring life to the plot. Bell says the place doesn’t have to be far from home.

Bell advocates parting from the predictable to some place fresh. He mentions the overdone example of lovers-to-be talking in a restaurant.

  1. Debra Dixon – GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict.

tomb-333659_1280Dixon says the setting is important to heighten conflict. If the setting is at odds with the tone of a story, she suggests the writer will have hard work ahead to develop a mood of tension.

She gives examples of good and bad settings for dark suspense. Good: the rainy Northwest or New Orleans with its swamps, graveyards, and secrets. Bad: Disney World, and for a romantic comedy, Ethiopia.

Consider these experts perspectives when writing your story settings. Click to tweet.

As a reader, what’s important to you about setting?