Show Don’t Tell

Show Your Reader the Way

As a writer you hear “show don’t tell” time and time again, but what does it really mean?

I must admit that I struggle with this and have been spending some time looking into how I can improve my writing skills and incorporate this more into my book.   It is an adept skill to be able to create an image in your reader’s mind as they read the words you have written.  It really is an important part of being a writer, it is one we all need to master.

OK, here goes….

What is Difference between Showing vs. Telling?

“Telling” is writing a list of facts and information for the reader to read, where as “Showing” provides a background from which the reader can figure out on their own what is happening.

Below is a piece of text written in the two styles: one “telling” and the other “showing”, based on the same image the writer wishes to impart to the reader.

(1) Telling:

The man was 6ft tall and walked with a cane, his hair was white and his face wrinkled with age.  He crossed the road and enter a his apartment block.

(2) Showing:

A man limped across the road, slowly edging his way through the rushing traffic.  At the other side, he turned his face to look back at the busy traffic, and put up his arm to protect his aged eyes from the harsh sunlight. He then ducked down and stepped into the gloom.

The aim is to make the text more interesting, allowing the images to form in the mind of the reader.  Each piece painting a picture using words. The reader is part of the journey, brought into the unfolding of the story and permitted to create their own movie in their heads.

Show Using Dialogue

Another great way to “showing” is through dialogue.  Conversation between characters is a great way to show the reader in an engaging way.

(1)  Telling:

Martha told Philip that she was going to her pilates class in the morning and then she would drive over to meet her mother for lunch.

(2)  Showing with dialogue:

“What are you up to today?” asked Philip, as he sipped his coffee.

“I’m off to pilates class this morning. Mum called last night and I’ve arranged to meet her at Rico’s for a bite of lunch, and then I’ll see,” answered Martha, as she grabbed her gym bag and headed to the front door, twirling her car keys around her finger.

Use Strong Verbs to Paint a Picture

Choosing the right word is key in creating a dramatic picture in your reader’s mind.   Let’s have a quick look:

1)   Mark walked down the street with his hands in his coat pocket.

2)  Mark shuffled down the street with his hands stuffed deep into his pockets, his head hung low.

The right verb will imply so much more to the reader and create a more defined image.

Create a Movie Show in Your Reader’s Head

The art of an accomplished writer is to write a story and allow it to unfold in the reader’s mind like a movie show.   Draw the reader in and keep them engaged, and “showing” is a great way to do this.

Telling Does Have Its Place

Just know that “telling” has its place in writing and you can, of course, use it to provide the reader with important information.  However, add a good mix of “showing” and you will keep your reader’s mind active.  The more emotionally involved your reader is in the development of your storyline, the more they connect with the story.

It is the author’s job to forge a link and immerse the reader in the story as it unfolds – SHOW DON’T TELL – and allow your reader to unravel the story.



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