Susan C. Anthony

Showing Writing

The best writers show rather than tell. The reader must make inferences, or "read between the lines."

For example, a "telling" sentence might be, "The room was empty." A "showing" paragraph about an empty room might be:

The next show didn't start for another hour. As I repositioned the spotlight in the upper balcony, the squeaks of the rusty screws seemed to echo throughout the desolate building. I walked down aluminum stairs that resounded throughout the auditorium with the sound of rain beating on a tin roof. I opened the curtains to the large, lonely stage, dark and forbidding.

Samples of Showing Writing

Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of the sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side.
—Wilson Rawls in Summer of the Monkeys

Where is the writer? What is making the hissing sound and where is it?

A low rumble of thunder rolled out of the foothills, and everybody took off in different directions. Rob Jacoby grabbed his mitt and bat, and ran home across the park. The warmth of the big old house felt good as he got out of his wet clothes.
—Michael C. Slaughter in Expedition from Arreol

What were the characters doing before this paragraph? Why did they stop?

Seconds later, the sand and wind slammed into us. We pressed our shirts to our faces, trying to breathe in the gray air while the Land rover rocked and creaked, the keys jingling in the ignition. Hail drummed on the truck's metal roof, and through the windshield we could see boxes, sacks, pots, pans and other bits of camp rising into the air. The acacia tree was reeling like a crazed animal clawing at itself.
—Mark & Delia Owens in Cry of the Kalahari

What is happening? (wind)

The Mole came and crouched beside him, and looking out, saw the wood that had been so dreadful to him in a changed aspect. Holes, hollows, pools, pitfalls, and other black menaces to the wayfarer were vanishing fast, and a gleaming carpet of faery was springing up everywhere, that looked too delicate to be trodden upon by rough feet. A fine powder filled the air and caressed the cheek with a tingle in its touch, and the black boles of the trees showed up in a light that seemed to come from below.
—Kenneth Grahame in Wind in the Willows

What is happening? (snow)

All the boats, swaying level with the quays on the high tide, were moored at one side, leaving a clear rectangle of water marked out with strings of bobbing white floats. As they came down the road they heard the faint thud of a starting-pistol, and six brown bodies flung themselves into the water and began thrashing in a white flurry of spray across the marked course. The crowd began to cheer.
—Susan Cooper in Over Sea, Under Stone

What is happening? (swimming race)

While they were eating dinner, the kitchen became so dark that Abbie got up to light the lamp. As she did so, a gust of wind whined down the chimney, followed by a blast that set the shutters slamming furiously against the house.
—Dorothy Holder Jones and Ruth Sexton Sargent in The Great Storm

What is happening? (tornado or big storm beginning)

It was quiet and sort of deserted around the bus terminal. A few people were sleeping on the waiting room benches, and an old guy was mopping up the floor. The rush hour wouldn't get started for almost an hour. Most of the stores were closed. The sidewalk was a funny gray color, and it bounced cold up at us. A few pigeons, looking ruffled and sleepy, walked around on the pavement—trying to work up the decision to fly. The wind whipped our ankles and up our trouser legs whenever we came to an intersection.
—Alan Mendelsohn in Pinkwater

What time of day is it? (early morning)

It was a slow, hot Saturday in September. Heat shimmered in the shadows. Boats pushed their way through the oil slick coating the river. The leaves on the trees lining East Eighty-eighth Street lay limp and exhausted in the breathless air.
—Constance C. Greene in I and Sproggy

There were two rich birthday cakes at Pat O'Sullivan Pinkerton's birthday party—one all for him and the other for his ten best friends. Pat O'Sullivan Pinkerton was finishing his cake, licking the frosting off the tiny pink feet of the thirteen candles, when the two short-legged chairs he was sitting on broke beneath him. His best friends snickered, giggled, then bellowed with laughter. He hated being made fun of, particularly at his own party, and he stomped out of the dining room. In his fury, he forgot to walk sideways like a crab, and he stuck fast in the doorway. Purple with anger, he charged forward, cracking two walls and taking the door frame with him. He puffed and panted upstairs and flung himself face down on his double bed. His bed collapsed with a thunderous crash.
—William Pene duBois in Beat the Queen

What is the most remarkable thing about Pat's appearance? What are the clues? Note that this passage uses hyperbole, or exaggeration.

Go on to Dictation from Children's Literature
Source:, ©Susan C. Anthony