Show, Don’t Tell


Greetings, SE’ers. Beem Weeks here with you again! This month, I’ll be sharing a little insight into the art of Show, Don’t Tell!  


Show, Don’t Tell

“Show, don’t tell!”

If you’re a writer, you have heard this mantra before. But what exactly does this mean? Is it really that important to know? Will it make you a better writer? How does one show their story rather than just plain old telling it?

Today, we’re going to examine this mystical “Show, Don’t Tell!”

How do we show a scene in our writing? The famous Mark Twain quote on the subject goes something like this: “Don’t just say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream!”

One online writing site breaks it down as simple as possible: Showing is what happens when three writing traits come together to paint a picture in a reader’s mind: idea development (choosing memorable details), voice (conveying emotion, mood, and tone), and word choice (choosing verbs and adjectives that demand attention).

But what is the difference between telling and showing? It’s using actions, feelings, and thoughts rather than simple description. Showing is painting vivid details of the scene being described. Showing allows the readers to feel as if they’re seeing it play out right before their eyes. It is creating a visual rather than just telling readers what the character is doing.

Portrait of a funny laughing woman showing two fingers sign

Here are a few examples of show versus tell:

Bob walked into the room he wasn’t supposed to enter and sat on the chair. This would fall under the category of telling. I am merely telling what Bob has done.

Showing what Bob has done should read something like this: The old floorboards complained beneath Bob’s weight, threatening to reveal his presence in the forbidden room. Even the creaky old oak rocking chair colluded against him, promising to tell on the boy.

Another example of telling: Jimmy turned the car onto a lane leading into Tockett’s Wood. Telling is often boring and lifeless.

Here’s a way to show readers this same scene: Jimmy wrestled his shiny Ford onto the lane cutting straight through Tockett’s Wood, out to where old Mavis Tockett once had a cabin.

Telling: An old woman sat in a wheelchair.

Showing: The shriveled husk of an old woman slumped like a boneless entity in a worn wheelchair.

Telling: She woke up in the middle of the night.

Showing: Her body stirred awake as the blackest part of night splashed its inky resolve across that part of Alabama.

Telling: Violet tried to remember the dream she just had.

Showing: Violet stared at the ceiling, tried like the dickens to recall a face, perhaps a voice—anything belonging to the one responsible for this latest agitation.

Angry man shouting

Writing is as much about painting a picture as anything Van Gogh or Picasso ever did. For writers, description is our brush and words become our paint. We want our readers to see the scene as it plays out on the pages. Telling doesn’t allow for that.

Imagine being in the bank as a robbery occurs. You are in position, not only to see the perpetrator, but to observe the crook. Observation is key to showing. Sure, he had blond hair and blue eyes. Maybe even wore a baseball cap.

But we can do better.

A blond man with a slight limp. His hat, set at an angle, concealed a scar that ran the length of his forehead. He spoke with a distinctive southern drawl. Georgia maybe—or even Carolina Southern. The tattoo on his left wrist resembled a prison-system do-it-yourself splash of color—which could mean he’s already done time.

Portrait of a sad upset little boy crying

Showing is all about description and observation and emotion. We use it in our narrative voice, our characters dialogue, and even in POV. You may write a scene in one character’s POV. But later, as another character is re-telling events from that earlier scene, the second character may have more to add to the original scene. He/she may have observed things the first character didn’t see. This can be used to introduce new plot elements to your story.

Showing a scene—rather than telling readers about it—allows the writer to bring that scene to life.

Here are a few more examples of showing versus telling:

Telling: The old man appeared confused.

Showing: Hazy irritation mucked up the old-timer’s gaze.


Telling: Chance was frustrated. He stood up and put his hands in his pockets.

Showing: Frustration yanked Chance to his feet; his hands took cover inside his jacket pockets.   


Telling: His mind was occupied on something I knew nothing about.

Showing: He chewed on some idea or other that I wasn’t privy to, gnawing away as if there were seeds or pulp needed separating from the truth of the matter.


It’s all about coloring your story with actions and feelings. Anybody who chooses to read your story will understand feelings of anxiety, joy, anger, or melancholy. As human beings, we all experience these moments. Don’t just say: Bob was angry. Show us how angry Bob really is by recalling that time in your own life when you were at your angriest. How did you really feel? What went through your mind at that point? How did your body react to the stress that comes with real anger? Did your muscles tense up? Did your teeth grind, bringing an ache to your jaw? Were your fists clenched, ready to administer a beating to the object of your anger? Our own experiences can act as a colorful palette for the descriptions we wish to paint into our stories.

The main thing in writing is to entertain your readers. You don’t want to bore them. When boredom sets in, the reader is not likely to continue with the story. But don’t overthink it, either. Just write it. And always have fun with the process. A good story will make an author immortal. Just ask Mark Twain.

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78 thoughts on “Show, Don’t Tell

  1. Pingback: Show, Don’t Tell – Nelsapy

  2. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – #Twofer – #ThisWeekOnStoryEmpire and #SmorgasbordWeeklyRoundUp | The Write Stuff

  3. Very interesting post Beem. I agree as a writer you must at some point in your writing craft narrate the story by painting a picture in the mind of a reader.

    For example, He slammed the door in my face and I felt dejected
    Show part: Imagine seeing the door and the emotion he felt (Dejected)😫

    Good tips: Show don’t tell👌

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks so much, Beem, for this helpful advice. Your post is also an example of showing, not just telling: your examples illustrate and drive home the excellent points you’re making. My reading preference is for a mix of both show and tell – depending on the scene, I don’t need everything spelled out. But if I can improve the “show” parts of my storytelling even somewhat, your post will have succeeded! My best wishes and thanks again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your kind words, Yvette. I am truly grateful. I actually enjoy that revision stage. It’s a great time to tighten up the narration and really get a feel for the flow of the story. Thank you for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post and examples, Beem 🙂 It really does draw me in as a reader to have things shown. I have the bad habit of telling my stories when writing and having to go back in edits to remove that.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Fantastic post, Beem! You’ve provided a very important lesson to writers! Per usual, I’m taking notes! And the examples you’ve given do a great job of showing the difference between showing & telling.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love show/tell examples, and you’ve given us several excellent ones. Thank you.

    A lot of people tell beginning writers to work in first person because it’s easier to get into the main character’s head. There’s probably some truth to that, but in all the years I’ve been editing, I’ve found that makes writers tell rather than show. It’s a tradeoff, I suppose. Your post today should be very helpful to writers looking for how to make the distinction.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for your comments, Judi. And thank you for the re-blog. A reader who lives the story versus simply hearing it told will remember that story long after they’ve finished it. That’s what every writer should aim for.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Great examples, Beem. You definitely show the value of powerful verbs and sensory description that draws the reader into a scene. I think the most dangerous “tells” are those that state emotion, such as “George felt sad.” As a reader, I want to see and feel it, not be told about it. Telling creates distance between the reader and the characters, which can dull down a story. Wonderful post.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is an excellent post, Beem. I always learn something about Show Don’t Tell from you and when I read your stories, I see your examples in spades. Thank you for sharing. This is definitely necessary if we want to draw the reader into the experience. Your examples are super! And you’ve said it all with, “Showing is all about description and observation and emotion” Yep! Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Very helpful post, Beem! Thanks so much for including examples of exactly how to make the “Show, Don’t Tell” mantra work. I’m going to be much more aware of this process going forward, and I’m saving this post for reference. It’s something I definitely want to work on, and you’ve just made it easier to understand. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

  11. An excellent look at show vs. tell, Beem. It’s the difference between flat writing and a story that draws the reader deep into each moment. Great examples, and I particularly LOVE this line: “For writers, description is our brush and words become our paint.”
    So true!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Mae. I appreciate and respect your input. I’ve read many a wonderful story that’s been handicapped by flat writing. Writers are artists. We have to paint those visuals with words. It’s better for readers to see the story unfold rather than to simply hear about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. And this is why I love your writing!! Thank you for the examples, Beem. You offered us a show-don’t-tell even while you offered examples. Excellent post. Bravo!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Maura Beth. You are so correct. Most writers do indeed struggle with this concept. I’ve even caught it in my own writing from time to time. I edit as I write, so I can remedy those instances before they are released. It’s become second nature for me now. I am always looking for the tell in anything I write.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Fantastic examples, Beem. Just yesterday I was writing a scene in my WIP and used the word sighed (which is overly used). For some reason, relief is often an emotion I get stumped on in writing. I need to do a better job at showing the character’s emotion, but left if for now because it is a first draft. Wanted to get those words out of my head on on the paper.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thanks for sharing that, Joan. I have two novels I’m currently working on. One is in its first draft, which means getting those words and scenes out of my head and onto the computer screen. Writing emotion can be difficult. But this is where personal experience comes into play. We’ve all experienced every emotion God has gifted to us. We simply need to tap into how we felt in a similar moment. When writing “relief” as an emotion, think of tense muscles relaxing. Jumbled thoughts begin to make sense. Anxiety wanes. Then show your readers these things. We’ve all been there. Experience is a great teacher.

      Liked by 3 people

  14. Lots of lovely Show don’t tell examples in this to drive the point home, thanks.
    I’ll review my writing on the first edit to ensure I weed out the lingering tells and up my word count with the more interesting and lengthier shows.

    Liked by 6 people

  15. Pingback: Show, Don’t Tell – Stuff I want to read

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