Show, Don’t Tell: An Easy Guide

Show, don't tell

If you’re taking a creative writing workshop, you’ve probably heard the term “show, don’t tell.” When I first started my major in creative writing, this term gave me anxiety. Implementing it was hard at the beginning; however, after years of practice, it comes naturally to me now, and it will for you too.

What exactly is “show, don’t tell?” It is a phrase to remind writers to use the five senses and feelings to let readers immerse themselves in the scene rather than simply summarize the story and details. After all, no one wants to be told the details; they want to experience them.

Example of telling: She looked at the dark sky. It was raining, and she was cold. Her shirt became wet.

Example of showing: She tilted her head toward the angry sky. Rain drops clattered down, trickling over her shivering skin. Her shirt was a damp mess, clinging onto her every curve.

Basically, showing uses the five senses: Sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. Plus, it allows the reader to feel the emotions the characters feel. Instead of learning that a character is sad, we feel the sadness ourselves. On the other hand, telling does not use the five senses. It simply states things for what they are.

Example of telling: She was sad about the breakup.

Example of showing: Her throat stung as she wept, the picture of her now-ex imprinted into her mind.

Here in my “showing” example, I did not mention that the character is sad, but you can easily feel her sadness and see her reaction to it. In fact, this is more effective at making you feel her sadness than the “telling” example. Sensing emotion is always far better than merely naming an emotion.

A great tip to remember when implementing “show, don’t tell” is to use the five senses (not always, of course, as that could become exhausting) and refrain from simply mentioning an emotion instead of showing how it affects the character.

Above all else, though, it is wise to keep a balance. “Show, don’t tell” does not mean that you should never tell. On the contrary, telling is useful in certain instances. Your story is not a movie; you do not need to immerse readers into the story as if they are using a virtual reality headset. Your job is to draw a scene and then let the reader conjure up the minor details.

If you’ve found this blog helpful, be sure to check out my others for more helpful writing tips!


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