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Show, Don’t Tell: Tips and Examples

One of the writing tips you’ll here over and over again is ‘Show, don’t tell.’ This is important to master if you want to be noticed by a publisher for the right reasons.

Telling is informing your readers about a situation or character. Showing allows the reader to deduce what you are conveying. How do you do it?

Instead of stating something, show your characters in action and/or use dialogue to paint a picture in your reader’s mind’s eye.

For example, instead of stating, “She felt cold,” show your character pull up her collar, tighten her scarf, or shove her hands in her pockets.

Instead of stating, “Dennis was angry,” show him pound on the table, his face flushed, throat tightening, or him yelling.

Instead of stating, “the forest floor was soft,” write something like: The path through the forest felt spongy beneath her feet.

Instead of stating, “Edwin was blind,” how about showing with something like this: He felt for the bench with a white cane.

 

When is Telling acceptable?

Telling is preferable if you need to impart necessary information that has no value to the plot, character arc, tension, or conflict.

E.g. Rather taking several pages to show your character going through each step of preparing for a trip, buying tickets, packing, getting a cab to the airport, boarding the plane, flying and arriving, you could say: The next afternoon Andrea flew to Calgary to find her sister. Once at the hotel, she reviewed the contact list and began making calls to set up appointments.

Then you return immediately to showing mode, describing her visits to her last known associates.

Review your manuscript, identify where you could “Show, don’t tell,” and revise. Your readers will thank you for it.

About Author

Judith Silverthorne, Writer in Residence

Judith Silverthorne is an award-winning Saskatchewan writer. She has authored more than a dozen books, many of which are children’s novels. She has also written two non-fiction biographical adult books, and has authored extensively as a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines.