Show, Don’t tell

Show, don't tellMany writers, myself included, have trouble with this rule. The books say this is the Number One Rule of creative writing, so we have to get it right.

Mariska Stamenkovic gives us a good example:

Suppose I want to convince you that my neighbor is a slut. I could tell you:

  • “She has no morals at all, I’m telling you. She’s as ethical as a doornail. Really. Believe me.”

Or I could show you:

  • I take you by the hand and lead you to the park across the road. I push aside some branches and point. There she is, my neighbor. Bare-ass nekkid on a park bench, making out with three guys, none of them her husband.

Which approach is the more convincing?

Here are a few tips for showing, not telling:

  •  Write in scenes. Picture the scene and then write it. Take your reader with you. Help them to feel what you feel.
  •  Use rich sensual language. Use as many of the five senses as you can. They say the sense of smell is the strongest.
  •  Use plenty of dialogue. The minute you write a line of dialogue, you’re SHOWING, not telling.
  •  Don’t use judgement adjectives, nouns or phrases. “nice, good, a great person,  friendly, terrible, a jerk, I hate her etc.

Now let’s try it – write this scene. Don’t tell us, Show us. Make us readers feel we are right there. How would you do it?

win race



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4 responses to “Show, Don’t tell

  1. I like this…

    Nick summoned up his last breath. The finish line was so near. He had to make it. His legs were threatening to crumble on him. He dug deep within. “Just one more step,” he desperately thought.

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