Commentary #56: “Changing Telling into Showing”

ML Keller

Image Credit: M.L. Keller

As an aspiring novelist, I subscribe to several WordPress blogs that are dedicated to advice about writing.

Back in July, one blogger re-blogged a post from Michelle Keller, also known as ML Keller – The Manuscript Shredder!

Here’s the link to the original post:


This is something that I have ALWAYS struggled with in my writing. In college, I was told this several times, both in writing and to my face. It stung, but, it’s true.

I majored in Communication Studies, with a Mass Media concentration. But, I also minored in Rhetoric & Professional Writing, through the English department. I always wanted to take creative writing classes, and at Longwood, I got that chance!

But, combining that major and minor affected my writing in an interesting way. Through being a writer, and eventually an editor, for The Rotunda student newspaper, I learned quickly how to summarize my points and quotes for an article, or a column, or a feature. For the newspaper, I knew I couldn’t write a novel.

However, summarizing for countless articles and columns bled into my creative writing. One of my professors, Dr. Steven Faulkner, told me in a one-on-one meeting that he could tell immediately that I was a journalism student. He looked me in the eyes, and said, “You’ve mastered the art of summary.” I still remember him saying that – It’s been eight years now. I was taking his Advanced Creative Non-Fiction class at the time, and I was frustrated that I wasn’t improving my overall grade. I ended up with a good grade, but that conversation has always stuck with me.


In her post, Keller says that changing telling into showing is “hated.” Why?

  • Telling stops your story cold.
  • Telling creates distance from your characters.
  • Telling is boring to read.

Ir’s harsh advice, but I know that I needed to read it.

One of the biggest pieces that stuck out to me was:

“Imagine meeting someone for the first time over coffee and the entire conversation is her talking about people you have never met and her deepest darkest life experiences? You’d probably think she needs some serious counseling, but so many of the manuscripts I see begin this way.”

I’ve definitely filed that away for future reference.

In order to change telling into showing, Keller gives several pieces of good advice.

  • Have your characters argue.
  • Have your characters interact with the setting.
  • Use transitions.

According to Keller, the easiest way to change telling into showing is something that I’ve appreciated as a reader for a long time:

Treat your novel like a movie. If the reader can’t see it on the screen, (in novels the other senses count too) then you are telling.

I first noticed this several years ago, when, oddly enough, I started reading and re-reading the Nicholas Sparks novels. There were times (a lot of them with him in particular) where I would put the book down for a minute, and I felt like I could see the action on the page I was just reading play out in front of me, just like a movie.

Once I realized this, I started looking for it in other books, and with other authors. It became a litmus test for me, in a way. The more scenes I could see or visualize, the more I liked the book.

I definitely want to be able to do this in my own novels. I want my readers to use all of their senses when reading my books.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

7 thoughts on “Commentary #56: “Changing Telling into Showing”

  1. I like how perceptive you are. A very handy skill to have.

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