Show, don't tell
Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 2:16 PM

 Hello AuthorStand Members,

Have you ever received the advice "show, don't tell?" I've seen it mentioned in enough reviews that I imagine it's a common challenge for writers. Does anyone care to ellaborate on exactly what this means. I'm currently working on something and I'd like to avoid this pitfall.


Any tips?

Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 3:04 PM

To me, it means demonstrating things through dialogue or description. 

For instance, instead of saying, "He was a tall man," say "He ducked his head as he entered the doorway." Or rather than "He was a strong man," say, "He picked up the 100 pound sack of flour with one hand and tossed it casually across his shoulder."

Or use dialogue to say, "Hey, big guy, how's the weather up there."


Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 5:29 PM

 Thanks James. That makes sense.

Do you think that “telling” is ever a good writing technique?

Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 7:00 PM

Roger...I have a big problem with too much telling and not enough showing in my stories and they just don't have the spark they could have. James gave perfect examples of showing instead of telling.  I just finished reading a book by Joe Bunting titled Let's Write a Short Story. In it he stated, "The simplest rule to remember if you're trying to show is just to be specific. Specificity will fill in the gaps from your telling and bring life to your scenes." He also went on to say that some telling is necessary but too much telling is vague, and boring.

I hope that answers your question, and I plan to keep that in mind when writing my own stories in the future.

Posted: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 7:17 PM

Roger this has probably been mentioned somewhere here before but my suggestion is to get the book "The Art of Fiction" - notes on craft for young writers by John Gardner. It is an absolutely invaluable source that's written in a style that's easy to follow with plenty of excellent examples. It was published right about the time of Gardner's untimely death in a motorcycle accident in the early eighties yet reads as if it came out yesterday. The paperback edition is roughly 200 pages and can be found at the library or at any bookstore. I think though once you read it you'll probably want your own copy for continued future referances.


Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2013 11:19 AM

 Thank you, Rita and William. I think being specific is a great and easy way to think about this. I can think now of some ways it can help my own pieces. I think I will continue to have some telling, to keep things moving quickly at points, but at least I’ll be more mindful of it.

I think I’ll pick up “The Art of Fiction” too. I’ll just buy it since I like to mark up things like this.

Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2013 11:52 AM

I agree with James and Rita, and I also have trouble with it.  The reader gets the idea that a character is fat if you write that he took two seats on the plane, or that he is tall if you describe his looking over the heads of others in the room.  You can let the reader know that he is sarcastic by having him make sarcastic comments.  The reader can get the idea that a character is a loner if you note that he never joins the group for happy hour, etc.  But you might introduce a character and desribe his personality and attributes, and then go on to justify or reinforce your description using techniques we have described.

Posted: Friday, March 08, 2013 9:22 AM


Thank you for bringing up that pesky pointed question.  Reviews of some of my stories have alluded to a "show, don't tell" problem.  I went directly to and typed in "Writing show don't tell"  and up popped enough information about the problem that satisfied me.

Just another source for you to look at.  



Posted: Friday, March 08, 2013 10:38 AM

 Wow. Thanks for letting me know. It always feels better when someone else tells you that they've been perplexed by the same thing. You feel so much less like a weirdo.

Posted: Sunday, March 10, 2013 4:43 PM

You are a weirdo, you're a writer right?

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2013 9:25 AM

 Indeed, and I wear the title with pride, I suppose it's just better to know you're not alone.

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 1:35 AM

I try to remember the acronym, DATA: Dialogue, Action, Thoughts, Appearance. Here are a few show vs. tell examples.

Shelly yelled insults at Kathy. -vs- "You're a real bitch, you know that?" Shelly said.

Bill and Tommy got into a fight. -vs- With fire in his eyes, Billy clenched his fist and rammed it into Tommy's jaw.

John thought of his wife. -vs- I wish Marry were here. She'd know what to do.

Tom showed up to the party dressed like a pirate. -vs- Tom wore an eyepatch over his left eye and an oversized hat with a skull-and-crossbones on his head. His red coat nearly reached to the floor, and it flowed behind him like a cape as he made his entrance. On his belt hung an old, flintlock pistol and a buccaneer's blade. No doubt he'd have people walking the plank before the party was over.

Notice how in each example I moved from a general statement to something more specific and vivid. There is a time to use "tell" and a time to use "show." Anything really important to your story should be "shown", but If you just want to get information to your reader quickly so you can get on with the good stuff, then "tell" is useful for that.

Hope that helps.

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 5:41 AM

 @Seth.  The earlier comments and your excellent explanation has cleared up most of  the "show vs don't tell"  confusion for me.  I am going back over some of my old stories and see where I could have done better.   



Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 3:30 PM

I've been keeping up with this thread and I have to say I find this information very helpful and I will also go back over my stories and see what I can replace.  Thanks!!  :-)

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 4:18 PM

@Seth. Great post showing actual examples, which for me are very, very helpful. I have a book from Writer's Digest on the subject...Showing versus Telling. They say (Writer's Digest) that it's a balancing act, but it seems to me that they touch on what you said. If it's not super important and you just need to get it across and move on, tell your reader and then move on. But if it's important to your plot or character development, show rather than tell....

Great advice.

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 4:24 PM

I had an uncle who believed in the "show don't tell" principle. He wasn't a writer though. He'd wander around the city park wearing a raincoat and then he'd...

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 4:56 PM

@James.. TMI...  lol

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 4:58 PM

Your Uncle did that too? Glad to know I'm not alone...

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 5:06 PM

@ Virginia: That's also what the people in the park said.

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 5:06 PM

Hi James, @Greg Are you all from Missouri, THE SHOW ME STATE? Lol!! My family is not from there but Curt has family from there and they believe in the SHOW  Not Tell too!! :):):) I am that way about learning somethings. Just SHOW me DON'T try to tell me. :) If I can see how it is done I am more apt to learn how to do it. :)

Posted: Thursday, March 14, 2013 9:17 PM

@Linda..  I'm from Missouri..  lol  And like you, I have to see how something is done, I get confused if someone tells me..  I also suffer from short term memory loss too..  lol

Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2013 8:29 PM

Hi Virginia, :):):) I didn't know that was contagious. I have that too. Lol!! :):) Think they have a cure for that? :)

Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2013 10:09 PM

Yeah, when someone just tells me how to do something I get confused as soon as they walk away..  If I see it done, I can do it right away..  My memory lasts just a few seconds after the person stops talking..  lol

Posted: Saturday, March 16, 2013 11:54 PM

@ Virginia! :):):) Oh how well I know but......THAT DOES NOT MEAN WE ARE OLD!!!! ..."Does it"? Lol!!! :):) PLEASE tell me no! I REALLY Need to hear that now. Lol!! It has just been one of those days!