Show, Don’t Tell

Something that contributes to interesting readings is the author’s ability to convey moments that the reader can visualize and believe. How could one go about writing a work of fiction that is believable? Isn’t fiction supposed to be the UN-believable? Yes, and no. While many elements of fiction can be unbelievable (such as elves, dragons, magic, etc.), an author has the ability to write about them believably. It is a writer’s goal to write so that the reader is completely immersed in the world they are reading about. A reader should be transported to a world of your creation. A sure-fire way to do this is to write with your 5 senses while showing instead of telling.


In your writing, the reader sees everything that your characters are seeing. My question to you is this: what are they seeing? Are they seeing a woman walk down the sidewalk, or are they seeing a women stumbling along? Limping along? Running along? One thing that can constitute to sight is emotion of an observed character. Are they seeing a man getting mad, or are they seeing a man clench his fists so hard, his knuckles are white and his face is beginning to turn alarming shades of red?


Just as a reader sees as the characters see, the reader hears what the reader hears. Don’t be afraid to use similes and metaphors if you must (just know that is it possible to use too many). Are they hearing a branch scratch the glass, or are they hearing the shrieks of fingernails on an old chalkboard coming from the branch outside the window? Did they hear an explosion, or did they hear the deafening sound of twisting metal and crashing debris all around them?


Like above, you want to show, not tell. Don’t just tell the reader that the room stank; show it. Did it just stink, or did the room smell as though something had crawled into the air vent, died, and had begun to decay? The same can go for nice smells. Did the flower smell nice, or did it smell like the breeze after a refreshing rain? Perhaps it smells of all of the flowers of the world combined into one? It’s all up to you.


This one can be a bit tricky. Since many people may not actually know what something tastes like, just saying (telling) that the steak was the best steak So-and-so had ever had doesn’t show the reader how it was the best. If they had never had a good steak their entire lives, how do they know that this steak was genuinely good? Was the meat so tender, he didn’t even need a knife to cut it? Did it just melt in his mouth. Were the vegetables crisp? The mashed potatoes fluffy? Perhaps they were lumpy? Adding description to this is a lot better than just saying that the meal was a good one.


I feel like this one is the most fun of them all. Now is when you can dish out all of your description of the things you normally come into contact with (not that you don’t come into contact with the other 4 senses, but how often do you take the time to think,’Oh, this smells like a summer rain,’ etc.?) Now, does the sweater feel soft, or does it feel like clouds were spun into the lightest, fluffiest sweater ever? Is the stone flat, or is it smooth and cool? Did his hand playing with the small hairs at the nape of her neck make her shiver, or did they send shills up and down her back, making her immediately rub where his fingers had been?

You can do all of this, and so much more! Just remember the Golden Rule of Writing: Show, don’t tell.

I apologize for another long post, so thank you for reading this far! I hope this helps in your writing!

Thanks for reading!

Categories: Fiction/Non-Fiction Writing, For Your Journey | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Show, Don’t Tell

  1. Lindi,
    Such great advice for writers with helpful examples for each sense. I agree that “showing” is an infinitely more sophisticated way to write. Often, though, writers want to tell, tell, tell, perhaps because we’re (hopefully) craftsmen of words. Using our words to show, however, so helps the reader relate to our story, and, as you said, get lost in the world of our writing!
    Thanks for the tips!

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