The Show is Emotional, Don’t Tell

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

If you’re new to writing or you’re on a journey to soak up whatever knowledge you can find, you may be wondering why writers decide to do what they do. Write down a handful of scenes on notecards, and shuffle them around to suit whatever thought process you’re trying to work out.

It’s a useful tool so that writers have an idea of what their story is about, and scenes help them to organize and structure that story. So, why write them at all? Because scenes are a way for writers to illustrate what the story is all about.

So let’s talk more about the nuances of the scene that you’re trying to set for the reader. It doesn’t matter if you’re a novelist, short story author, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, or poet. The tips I share with you are merely to get you to think.

Let’s think about this scenario. It can be terribly frustrating to read a character that you can’t get emotionally invested in. And aggravating to read about someone that you don’t care about it. We’ve all seen it happen.

You’re probably wondering what is it about them that makes them so unlikeable.

Maybe it was a deliberate craft choice. Maybe the author wanted you to read them that way.

Or maybe the atmosphere around the character is decidedly unrelatable and you can’t get on board. That happens frequently to me as a reader and a writer.

The next question is: how do you avoid it?

I spoke at length about body language last week. But in what ways can body language suit the story that you’re trying to tell?

Your character could:

Show, Don’t Tell Tip Number One

Show Interest

Lean in, ask questions, strong eye contact, smile, nod, speak in short bursts, add to the conversation, open body posture, light physical touches

Show, Don’t Tell Tip Number Two


Lean back, angle away, crossed arms, wandering gaze, easily distracted, poor eye contact, rarely speaking, shrugging

Show, Don’t Tell Tip Number Three


Jittery, jerky, fiddling with wristwatch, touching things, broken eye contact, swallowing, looking down, looking away, touching throat, rubbing neck, hesitating, speech trailing off, non-committed

Show, Don’t Tell Tip Number Four

Frustration & Anger

Tight voice, low tone, directly to the point, short sentences, facial and muscular tension, curled hands, strong grip, thrust-out chest, intense stare, unblinking, rigid neck

Photo by Julien L on Unsplash
Photo by Julien L on Unsplash
Show, Don’t Tell Tip Number Five


Darting eye contact, flashing smile, talking too fast, always wanting to change the topic, misdirection, delayed reactions, steering the conversation, cutting people off, defensiveness, increased personal distance, blocking, closed body posture

You’ll notice how many of these categories overlap. There’s a reason for that, and it’s because the art of showing emotion on the page is hard to do. It’s up to you as the writer to decide how you want to portray that.

I’ll tell you why revision is the best part of writing in your complimentary 15-minute consultation.

Guilliean Pacheco, your friendly neighborhood creativity concierge

Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of Filipino heritage and the host of the City of Writers podcast. Her work has appeared in TechTarget, Nevada Humanities, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco and is an Anaphora Arts poetry fellow. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally, if one could call living there normal, on Southern Paiute land. Follow her on Twitter.

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