If you’re an author, you’ve probably heard the phrase “show, don’t tell.” It’s an age-old piece of writing advice, but what does it actually mean? Does it apply to nonfiction as well as fiction? This special guest post by April Tribe Giaque will explain practical ways to add life and power to your stories through the power of showing vs. telling.
Connection. The bonding that glues humanity together. How is it done? It is always done through the power of a good story. Stories can drill a hole into our hearts and drain our love like the color off our checks. Or they can plug the hole with grit and perseverance and fill our soul with fire that ignites others. Stories have true power.
Stories are the connection for all of humanity.
This power is apparent in fiction, but if you’re a nonfiction writer, you too can harness the power of storytelling in your writing. If you’ve been telling stories hoping your readership will connect, then I have three tips to share that will make the difference in the books that you write (fiction authors—don’t miss our post on show vs. tell in fiction writing).
Tip # 1: Use the 5 Senses for Connection
What is the difference between these two sentences?
1) The dog was happy to see me when I came home.
2) I was greeted with wet nose kisses and a thumping tail against the door casing.
Which sentence do you connect with and why? Ah! The second sentence. You could see it, hear it, and feel it. This is a huge part of “show, don’t tell.” It creates a visual background and connection to your reader.
How can your readers emotionally connect with you if you don’t invest in them but spend the time insulting them (condescending to them by telling them everything and not allowing them to enjoy the written word)? Readers will leave. They will get bored. They will not review or recommend your book because they didn’t connect.
For example, if your story shares the tragedy of a miscarriage, help the reader experience the emotion and pain you went through, not only the facts. If you say, “I was devastated,” that might be true! I bet you would be devastated. But show me the emotion. Make me cry. Make me invest in you. You might think you have to get all flowery and dive into deep description. No, that isn’t what I’m saying. Let’s take a look at these few examples.
|He was angry at Jim||He had a whit-knuckle grip on his desk as Jim talked.|
|She was in disbelief!||Her mouth hung open as the positive test stick shook in her hand.|
|They were so happy.||Feet jumped, fists punched in the air, and their smiles were electrifying.|
|He didn’t see his name on the list.||His finger slid down the names on the list until it rested on the edge of the paper—his name was not there.|
Authors, please show your stories. I have edited a number of nonfiction books, and the biggest challenge I have is convincing the author to emotionally invest in the story and spend it on their reader. Certain topics can lend themselves to deeper connections than others, however, if you have written a business book and you only show facts and tables (even though that might be super important), the reader is not going to remember them.
Stories are a communal currency of humanity.
—Tahir Shah, Arabian Nights
Tip # 2: Create an Emotional Connection in People
All great stories need to create emotional connections in people. Why is that? Mary Catherine Bateson said it like this: “The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.”
Your readers want to feel the pain you experienced when you lost your child. They want to experience deep joy when your mom overcame the odds and beat cancer. They want to feel the bond of affection you have with your four-legged friend through the body language of the animal.
People buy on emotion and then they justify with logic. So, if you
want them to buy, change their emotional state.
When clients or readers—anyone, really—connects with you, they will most likely purchase your work and any subsequent work. Bring them into your world, your pain, your tragedy, and then inspire them with your hope, service, or solution. This is the essence of connection.
Tip # 3- Use Emotion to Tell the Right Story
Readers read stories for information, for escape, and for knowledge. People take their cue from your words, so whatever emotion you want people to feel, you need to convey that emotion. Tell them the right story.
Storytelling reveals meaning without committing
the error of defining it.
I love this quote because it summarizes “show, don’t tell” so precisely. Defining things is telling, so please avoid it when you are sharing stories. Instead, focus on evoking emotion.
Show your readers a better story because it leads to more connections. Connections will bring your readership more leadership, help them change their mindset, and give opportunities to expand their reach, thus helping them increase their impact, influence, and income. Wow! All of that thanks to a little writing tip of how to show the emotional connection of a story and not just tell about it.
Where do you go from here?
Do you feel the itch to look back at your writing and make some edits? If yes, then this article has made a connection with you. So, how can you as an author move forward and take these three tips into your writing power?
- Target the five senses and show it. Telling = “I was excited.” Showing = “My heart was banging against my ribcage when I saw the number of books sold.”
- The story should connect with the reader and not bore them. “Bueller? Bueller?” If you are a boring storyteller, your readers will shut your book and put their limited attention elsewhere.
- Tell the right story. People are reading your book for a reason, so bring them in, fill them up, and they will be loyal.
April Tribe Giaque has a passion for showing stories and how they connect humanity together. She is a writer-for-hire for ghostwriting, editing, and coaching. Her book, Pinpoints of Light: Escaping the Abyss of Abuse, gives real hope to victims and survivors of domestic violence, showing them there is a way out. Healing is possible!
Great article, April!
Excellent, April. Without emotion, both fiction and non-fiction are dry and lifeless.
Great writing advise. For nonfiction, it’s so easy to fall into the trap and telling readers what happened and how they should think/feel about it. Love the quote from Hannah Arendt. Thanks for sharing.
Wow, such an articulate piece for us non-fiction writers. Thank you so much April for you valuable insight.
Great article. Great tips.
Thanks for your feedback.