“Show, Don’t Tell”

Posted October 31st, 2011 in Uncategorized / 4 comments

Yup, that nefarious show, don’t tell we always hear about. Something all writers should know and utilize. But this does not mean that you can drown your reader with adjectives. There is an art to knowing when to apply the show, don’t tell rule. But before we get to that, let’s discuss what show, don’t tell really means.
What is Show, Don’t Tell:
This means don’t tell us a character is angry, show us what made the character angry, how he is angry. We will read it and feel it if you do it right. The word angry is so boring and simple. You want to engage the reader, not throw words at him. When a reader can visualize the action, picture, or event, and it awakens feeling within him, that’s when you’re are showing.  Saying: “He was angry,” does nothing for me, how about you? Or: “She had a panic attack.” Boring. You need to go through the senses, make us feel what it’s like to have a panic attack. How about: “Her eyes fluttered shut as she grabbed her chest, wheezing as much air as she could get into her lungs. Colors blurred and ran together as the room swam. The sounds of laughter and glasses clinking together dulled and seemed distant as she tried to calm herself. She couldn’t afford to panic at the company’s Christmas party.” Now that’s interesting. I get sucked into the scene, and I can actually feel what it’s like to have a panic attack.

When to Show Instead of Telling:
It’s important to pick the moments when the most drama is going on. Show, Don’t Tell is not meant to be applied to all incidents of a story. If you try to constantly show in your writing, the parts that are suppose to stand out simply won’t. Plus, you will exhaust your readers. Not all parts of a book need to be expanded on, just the parts of a scene that are important to the story or are very dramatic. You need to find a balance. Telling or just plain summarizing isn’t a bad thing, but a whole book with just telling is just no fun to read.

How to Show:
*Sensory Language: Telling usually focuses on the ever simple visual sense or no sense at all. But on occasion you need to bring in the other senses. As a reader, I want to be able to smell the rancid breath of the kidnapper. I want to hear his approaching foot steps as he closes in on his victim. I want to taste the sweat that drips into the victims mouth as she screams in pain. And feel the chains bite into her skin as she struggles against her shackles. This is what reading is all about.

*Description: Remember, don’t just add a whole bunch of adjectives and adverbs. Use figurative language. You need to paint a picture for the reader. Make sure to chose the right wording in your description that will entrance the reader, not bore them. For more information on using descriptive words check out my post on adjectives and adverbs. Or my post on description.

*Dialogue: Dialogue can really help the reader be a part of the story. Through different characters you can show different emotions, moods, tones, and intensity. Let your characters show us what we should feel, what we should be visualizing.

Well, I hope this helps all you writers out there. Remember, you can always contact me if you have any questions.

Reference: Though I knew all this information from experience, this website: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/show-dont-tell/, did help me find a way to organize and label it.


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4 Responses to ““Show, Don’t Tell””

  1. Katie

    This is a great post! I think that no matter how many times we here “show, don’t tell” its still a difficult thing to put into writing. You do a great job of getting the idea across:)

    The Fiction Diaries

    • Jennifer L. Bielman

      Thanks. I am so happy I actually made sense, lol. Sometimes I fear I am rambling and nothing is coming out right. I am too much in my head or something.

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