Show, Don't Tell


If you are writer, it has been beat into your head since you were in elementary school to “show, don’t tell.” But what does that mean? One area I have learned to show, rather than tell, is describing emotions of people in dialogue. I’ve discovered a great tool to help.


For example, you could write:


“Yes,” she said excitedly. 


But this is telling, not showing. So, how would you describe a person saying something excitedly?  What does the face of a person saying something excitedly look like? How does their voice sound? How do you describe it?


It would be helpful to look at a person expressing the emotion. I’ve discovered that through a Google search you can get a large number of images of people showing certain emotions.  Do a search in “Images” for “facial expressions of emotions,” and you will find images showing an array of emotions. Do a search for a specific emotion, and you will get millions of images showing that emotion. I did a search of “facial expressions of excitement,” and got almost six million. You can’t look through six million images, but you’ll find that after about three pages the relevance starts to diminish.


You can see that they have some things in common. Brow raised, eyes wide, smiling or mouth open. Some are gesturing, such as arms in the air, on the face, and so forth. You don’t necessarily need or want to use them all. It depends on the character and the situation.


So, instead of


“Yes,” she said excitedly, 


You could write: 


“Yes,” she said, her eyes wide, smiling.


Her eyes grew large and she smiled. “Yes.”  Or,


She flung her arms out and smiled. “Yes.”


You could use an exclamation point (use sparingly):


Her eyes grew large and she smiled. “Yes!”


Another way to add emphasis to it is by using italics:


 “Yes,” she said, her eyes wide.


There are certainly better or different ways to write it. The point is that through a Google search you can get hundreds of useful images from which you can write a description showing the emotion, rather than telling.