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Show vs. Tell

August 6, 2012

In this post I would like to share some of the research I have done on how to be more effective with your writing. As a newer writer I sometimes struggle to get everything on paper, ignoring the most important part of writing, engaging the reader. When I write, I have a tendency to write after an idea has started to form in my head (or I have written an outline.) I am not saying this is a bad way to do it, but I know for me that this sometimes results in my writing being more about telling the audience (reader) about a character rather than showing them. I may have a scene in my head that I could tell you down to the last detail what is going on, and when I write it down, that is exactly what I do. In an effort to “pass on my wisdom” I thought I would share a few tips and tricks that I have found out, or read about.  

For example: I tell you that “Jack Spencer got up from the old couch and went to the kitchen to grab a snack.” I go on to tell you, “he ate a cookie that was dry and read the postcard sent to him.”

To engage the reader and show you I might write something like:  “Jack got up from the couch, the old springs creaking under the weight shifting. He wandered toward the kitchen, the faded wallpaper peeling away after years of meals being prepared. His eyes scanned the familiar room, landing upon a small plate of freshly baked cookies. He grabbed a small handful and walked toward the counter, the first bite of cookie crunching loudly in his ears. His gaze fell to a stack of mail. Buried within the pile of bills and credit card offers, was a small portion of a brightly colored photo. Jack instinctively reached down, his fingers brushing aside the crumbs that fell from his hands. He retrieved the photo, discovering it was a post card. A beautiful white sand beach, set against a brilliant blue sky. The script on the bottom read “Wish you were here.” Jack flipped the card over as he took another bite of his cookie. His name and address were scrawled across one side. Sandwiched between a  post mark and a continuation of the scrawled message. He looked for a name, discovering it had been hidden by a bar code put in place by the post office. He read the message, a rambling assortment of  details about a trip that Jack would never go on. He swallowed the mashed up bits of cookie, their dryness becoming evident for the first time.”

Obviously the second portion engages the reader a little more. Now I will be the first to admit that I am by no means perfect at this technique but I do think it’s an important attribute to consider. Moving forward I know it will be important to show instead of tell. Do you have any tips or tricks you use to help you become a better writer? Feel free to share in the comments below. 



  1. Showing not telling is great advice. I try to concentrate on the why and the how – telling generally seems like recounting the who, what, where of the scene or action. Getting on to the why and how (the emotion/motivation) brings meaning to the character’s action. And the reader feels like they’re in the scene with them instead of watching it playing out from afar.

  2. I usually write from the 1st-person perspective. This is a lot easier, because you can just describe what the character smells, hears, feels … 😉
    Choice of words is also very important and a great tool to create atmosphere! I’ve read King’s »Pet Semetry« recently and tried to pay close attention to how he does create this suspense and fear … The book still scared the hell out of me, so he’s really excellent. 😉

Care to share? Let me know what you think in the comments section.

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