Writing a Novel – Show Don’t Tell

What is ‘Show don’t Tell’?

‘Show, don’t tell’ is a technique authors use to add drama to their works. Authors use this technique to show drama unfold on the page rather than you telling readers what’s going on. ‘Telling’ is factual and avoids detail, whereas ‘showing’ is detailed and puts the character right at the center of the drama. Showing gives flare to your story.

You are not alone if you struggle with the distinction between showing and telling. But once you’ve mastered it, it’s pretty simple. However, until you do, learning this technique can be as frustrating as learning any other writing technique. I catch myself telling more than not, so together, we will work on spotting and changing telling to showing.

Is it that crucial? Sure, it is. If you want an agent or a publisher to take notice of your writing, you must master the art of showing. Not to mention, it helps to engage your readers.

So let me see if I can cement the concept in your mind. I’ll try to do that by using examples of Showing and Telling.

I want to boost your showing vs. telling radar while keeping it simple.

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." - Anton Chekhov

When you tell rather than show, you inform your reader of information rather than allowing him to deduce anything.

By simply stating it, you are providing information. For example, you could say that a character is “tall,” “angry,” “cold,” “tired,” “blind,” “hungry,” or “a plumber,” or you could show it.

Tell: Henry is tall.

Show: Henry had to bend down to enter the basement of our home.

Tell: Henry is angry.

Show: Henry clenched his fist, raised his voice, and slammed his hands down on the table.

Tell: Henry is cold.

Show: Henry grabbed his collar, stuffed his other hand deep into his pocket, and turned his face away from the biting wind.  

Tell: Henry is tired.

Show: Henry yawned.

Tell: Henry is blind.

Show: Henry used his white cane to feel for the bench.

Tell: Henry is a plumber and asked for the bathroom.

Show: Henry wore coveralls and carried a plunger in one hand and a metal toolbox in the other. His leather belt hung with wrenches of various sizes. “Point me in the direction of the bathroom,” he said.

See how much better showing is? Showing creates a mental image in the reader’s mind and makes their reading engagement more exciting.

Here’s a link to a video that explains show and tell. It’s a little less than an hour long, so make sure you have snacks.


Until next time – Keep writing! You’re almost there.

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