You read about ‘show don’t tell’ in an earlier chapter where you used visual imagery, and even varied sentence length, to get a ‘picture’ into readers’ minds.

Another useful way of showing is to use direct speech – the words that people say to each other. Here is an example to show you:

Example 1: Tell

Zola walked into the kitchen. Zola’s grandmother asked if he had done his homework. He told her he had even though he hadn’t touched it. His grandmother believed him and made his lunch.

Example 2: Show

Zola walked into the kitchen. “Hello granny.”

“Hello my child, have you done your homework?” asked Makhulu with a stern look on her face.

“Um… yes,” replied Zola sheepishly, with his fingers crossed behind his back.

“Are you sure?” asked Makhulu, holding Zola’s face, inspecting his eyes for any trace of lies.

“Yes, I would never lie to you,” said Zola, becoming more uncomfortable.

“If you ever lied to me it would break my heart,” Makhulu said, tightening her grip.

“I promise granny, I promise,” Zola said, his eyes filling with tears.
Makhulu let him go. He tried to ignore his guilt as she made him his favourite polony sandwich.

Exercise:

You are going to rewrite the paragraph below with more SHOW and less TELL. (Remember to first write it on a piece of paper, and then type it into your answer at the bottom of this page.)

Busi’s Crush

Busi chatted to her friend, Andiswa as they walked to the spaza shop together. She told Andiswa that she really liked a boy called Thato in her Matric class and that she thought that he liked her too. She told Andiswa a little bit about Thato. Just then Busi got a Whatsapp from Thatho inviting her out on a date. Andiswa was impressed and a bit jealous because she also would have liked to have someone to date too.

How can you spice this up a little bit with more SHOWING and less TELLING?

• Describe the sights and sounds on the street on their way to the spaza. (doesn’t have to be too much – just a little to give us a bit of a feel…)

• Add dialogue. Eg. ‘Hi chommie,” Busi high-fived Andiswa as they set off for the spaza.
• “Whats up?” said Andiswa, looking at Busi like she knew she had something important to tell her.

• Add details. Eg. What does Busi like about Thato? How does Busi’s face look when she gets the WhatsApp?

• Write the Whasapp message that Thato sends Busi.

It doesn’t have to be very long – but just longer enough to give it a bit more spice, so that a reader can picture the scene in their head.

NOTE: Punctuating direct speech can be tricky. You can find notes on how to do this correctly here.