Show vs. Tell #RRBC #RWISA

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything related to the craft of writing and this is a subject that we all can use a refresher on. So, if it’s redundant, I apologize. I still see this over and over again, especially with Indie writers. So, for what it’s worth, here we go.

Don't Tell me

If you wonder how can I show something, ask yourself; how do I notice she is quick, he is happy, it is big?

  • Don’t tell me the story…show me, using your words.
  • Place the reader INTO the story. This is especially important in first person POV—but also equally important in third.
  • Use the senses to bring the reader along for the ride. Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, Smell.
  • Be specific and creative.

For example…One might describe a love interest this way. This is Telling:

  • I watched Jack walk into the room. He was hot; maybe the best looking boy I’d ever seen.

Rewriting the scene by using specificity and the senses, here’s showing:

  • Jack didn’t walk into the cafeteria. He swaggered like the Mayor of Westfield High School, as he shook hands and slapped shoulders. If there had been a baby somewhere, he would have kissed it. Normally, that sort of attitude makes my stomach turn, but not today. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He even nodded at the lunch ladies. When he got to my table, our eyes met for the briefest of moments, and I felt like the only girl in the world.

You can add character detail, voice, and setting at the same time. This is showing.

  1. USE DETAILS (NO – It was a spooky house. YES – The house had dark windows, a doorway covered in cobwebs and an overgrown path leading up to it.)
  2. SIGNS YOU ARE TELLING – Adjectives – big, old, high  etc. and any form of the words “to be.” (She was happy. He was impatient. )
  3. USE NOUNS AND VERBS – Nouns and Verbs FORCE you to describe. (NO – He was a grumpy man. (Adjective) YES – He rarely talked and when he saw kids playing, he let out a grunt.)
  4. USE SENSES – (NO – It was a lush garden. YES – The garden bloomed with wild red and orange flowers that filled the air with a thick sweet fragrance.)
  5. DIALOGUE LINES ARE ALWAYS SHOWING – It’s the character talking, not the author.
  6. BE CAREFUL WITH DIALOGUE TAGS; THEY OFTEN TELL – It’s better to express the way the character is talking with body language. (NO – …she said jokingly. YES – …she laughed and slapped his arm.)

You don’t need to show absolutely everything, especially if it’s not important to move the plot forward. You risk the danger of being too lengthy or detailed. For example, NO three-page descriptions of the woods.

“Telling” is often used to move the action along quickly or relate necessary backstory.

However, you run the risk of “info dump” if you tell all the backstory this way.

When you “show,” you put the reader in the driver’s seat and let them “feel” the scene, emotion or action.

Use a combination of the two, to amp up your storytelling!


  1. Imagine a movie scene in your head. Write all the detail that you see. No “floating” heads of dialogue—be sure to describe where people are standing, what their hands are doing, noises in the room, where they are. Activate ALL the senses.
  2. Use Action Verbs to “show” what’s happening.
  3. Avoid using “was,” “is,” “are,” – All “To Be” words. This is Passive Voice.
  4. Consider investing in “The Emotion Thesaurus” by Angela Ackerman, AND “Emotional Beats – How to Convert Your Writing into Palpable Feelings,” by Nicholas Rossis to get a sense of how physical movement conveys emotion.

You can write your first draft by telling if that’s what you need to do to get the story down, but ramp up all the feels in your story by showing through your subsequent drafts.

Happy Writing! Happy SHOWING!

show vs tell_Mark_Twain


52 thoughts on “Show vs. Tell #RRBC #RWISA

  1. Terrific post, Jan! We all can benefit from writing refreshers, especially on this subject. If I’m reading a book where the author does more telling than showing, I find myself rewriting it as I read. This often leads me to closing the book, for good. Your examples were superb. Well done, sister ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent advice! AND, guilty, as charged! When I started writing years ago (I’m telling NOW, not showing my height, weight, and charming good looks!) I fell into the ‘passive rut’ – still there but better now! (I try to keep a movie going in my mind!)… So glad you’re feeling better! ♥


  3. Jan, this is so good. You would be an excellent writing coach for secondary students, not to mention beginning and seasoned writers as well. Just like the old phrase, “You learn something new everyday.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I run across these types of articles a lot. Finally, here’s one that delivers on the promise to help writers. Don’t just tell us—show us how to show the action. Love this, Jan! Sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So true, Diana. I don’t think there are any total absolutes in writing. The guidelines are great, but ultimately, it’s up to us to tell the story in the best way possible. Thanks so much for stopping by. Hugs!


  6. Yes! Great post, Jan. Your examples are wonderful at getting the points across. And I’m glad you mentioned that some telling is okay when something needs to be conveyed but isn’t important enough to slow down the pace. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As writers we are always told show don’t tell, but you have found a way to show us perfectly what that means:) Great post and something I am always working on:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Please, Patricia, I’d be thrilled for you to share it and so glad you found it helpful. I find that examples make it much easier to grasp. Thanks for stopping by.


  8. I love these examples. I am adding this post to my reference library. Thanks was sharing again. I am glad that you are feeling better. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jan- that is an amazing way to show the difference in writing. I just learned a great deal. Thank you so much. I hope you are feeling better and the meds have helped you to get back on your feet and back into the swing of things.
    Love and hugs. Happy Spring to you!

    Liked by 1 person

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