Denise Robbins

Show, Don't Tell

As writers we’ve all heard the words, “show, don’t tell” at some point. What the heck does that mean? Unlike a painters or photographers who show their images with pictures, writers paint their images with words.

Did that describe “show, don’t tell” any better? Probably not. The best way to explain this is to show you. J


Max thought Samantha was hiding something from him.

Samantha slammed the drawer shut and spun around, her hands hidden behind her back. She bit her lower lip then smiled wide and bright. “Max! What’re you doing here?”

Showing involves physical action, facial expression, and dialogue to convey the same information as the “telling”. The big advantage to the showing is that now you can see what the character is doing and feel the emotion. It’s not a flat statement.

Here’s another example.


It was hot.

As Mary walked to the pool her rubber flip-flops stuck to the asphalt. Having found a small spot to put her towel and belongings, she slipped off the sandals and did the hot-footed dance, hopping from foot-to-foot until she reached the pool. Jumping in, Mary came up frowning. The pool felt like warm bath water.

See the difference? No where in the second example did I tell you it was hot, you felt it by the visual image painted in Mary’s actions.

Let me show you one more.

The basement was scary.

Ruby held her breath against the musty odor as she started down the creaky stairs. When she reached the dirt floor she turned her head and listened. She sputtered, wiped at her nose and eyes. “Ugh.” Her face ran into a cob web. Stiffening her spine, Ruby took another couple of steps in the dark and dank room. “There.” Something skittered in the corner. Squinting, she looked but couldn’t make it out. Ruby jumped along with her heart. It ran across her feet. That was it! A loud scream ripped from her throat as whatever unseen monster sent her turning and bolting up the stairs.

Readers want to be a part of your story. If you simply “tell” the readers what’s going on they are on the outside looking in. When you “show” the story, show what the characters are experiencing, your readers become engaged in your story.

Showing uses details, emotions, and senses. Showing involves strong verbs to express an idea or mood. Drawing a picture with words pulls the reader in and lets them experience the story.

Practice showing the following on your own.