Writing Tips & Advice
Show, Don't Tell
‘Show, don’t tell’ is often referred to as the golden rule of writing fiction--arguably one of the most important rules
for all new writers to learn and follow.

Simply put, 'show, don’t tell' means to use words that allow the reader to experience the story through the
character’s actions, dialogue, facial expressions, or through specific details rather than tell the reader what to
believe.  'Showing' draws the reader right into the scene you've created.

Related to 'show, don’t tell' is 'resist the urge to explain' (RUE).  Scenes and dialogue should be strong enough
so that the reader needs no further explanation.

I can best explain by way of examples.

  • Telling - There were no clouds in the sky, and the moon was full.
  • Showing - An endless stream of moonlight danced on the surface of the water.

  • Telling - He was really tired.
  • Showing - He slouched way down in the recliner, his eyes struggling to stay open, his hand gradually
    losing its grip on the can of Miller Light.

  • Telling - She was surprised at his remark.
  • Showing - She jumped up from the kitchen chair.  Her eyes widened, and a full smile quickly burst
    across her face.  “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

  • Telling - He was musically talented.
  • Showing - He played first violin for the Chicago Symphony and strummed a mean banjo as well.

  • Telling - The boat sank.
  • Showing - The 100-ton schooner took on scads of water through the massive hole in its starboard side,
    its rear mast the first to disappear beneath the shimmering surface of the deep blue water, all items
    sliding off the deck one at a time until there was nothing left but that which was attached, including the
    five-man crew.
Okay, so the last one is a bit overdone (you think?), but you get the idea.  Here are some 'Show, Don’t Tell' tips I learned along the way.

  • You don’t always have to 'show.'  Some details just aren’t important and can actually bog down the story.  If something doesn't
    move the story forward, omit it.

  • To liven up a flat 'tell' sentence, try incorporating one or more of the five senses into it--see, hear, touch, smell or taste.

  • Never do both, i.e., don’t tell the reader what the action is and then show him.  Example: She was surprised to see him there.  
    "What is he doing here?" she shouted.

  • A successful 'show, don’t tell' will make the reader feel like he is inside the character’s head and will know from that perspective
    what’s going on.

  • If you’re using too many of these words, you might be 'telling' more than you should  --  is, was, were, has, had, have, saw,
    thought and felt.

  • Look for facts in your manuscript and replace them with action where appropriate.

  • Look for long passages where there’s no action or dialogue.  This may be a good spot to replace it with a scene.

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Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on
broken glass.
                                                                --Anton Chekhov