Don’t Show OR Tell: Evoke

2723947638_833d0f30ba_b“Show, don’t tell.” It’s likely the most common writing advice out there and with good reason. Readers want to experience the world of your story, not have it dictated to them.

But it’s worth pushing this advice a little further, especially when it comes to conveying character emotions. Aim beyond relying on narration or description to carry the emotion of the scene. Evoke the emotion itself through the writing.

What exactly do I mean by “evoke”? How does a writer do this? I mean using the diction, imagery, and structure within the text itself to convey the emotion or mood.

An example is in order:

Telling: She was furious.

Showing: She clenched her fists and sneered.

Evoking: She watched the waves rage across the beach.

In fact, all three methods are useful tools and have different effects, as can be seen from the above examples. Telling is simple and direct but blunt, unsubtle, often uninteresting. Showing allows the reader to create a mental movie of the scene, but is rife with cliches (“clenched her fists”) and creates distance from the character. Evoking is subtler and draws the reader deeper into the character, but can be too indirect depending on the kind of story you’re telling.

Give it a try. Pick a scene of your own writing in which you’re attempting to convey a character’s emotion and rewrite it, this time working to evoke the emotion itself rather than telling or showing it.


  1. Lisa Birk

    Agreed! RJ is brilliant! I have often struggled to explain this exact concept, but haven’t had the right insights or words. Evoking is exactly it. Exactly.

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