Master the Art of Showing, Not Telling: 10 Writing Techniques You Need to Know

the art of showing, not telling

Show, don't tell is a writing technique used by authors to help readers visualize and experience the story. Instead of telling the readers what is happening or how the characters are feeling, the writer shows them through descriptive details

and actions. This technique helps create a deeper connection between the reader and the characters, making the story more engaging and memorable. When an author uses too much telling in their writing, the reader is left feeling disconnected and uninterested in the story. It is important for writers to master the art of showing, not telling to keep readers engaged and invested in their work.

Telling: Jane walked into the room and felt sad.

In this segment, the writer is simply telling the reader what Jane is feeling, without providing any additional context or detail. This type of telling doesn't engage the reader or allow them to connect with the character on an emotional level.

To show instead of telling, the writer can provide more sensory details and actions to create a more vivid picture for the reader.

Showing: Jane opened the door to the empty room and gazed around at the barren walls and dusty furniture. She let out a heavy sigh and sank down onto the rickety chair in the corner, the musty smell of the old fabric making her nose wrinkle in distaste. The weight of loneliness settled in her chest as she stared out the grimy window, wishing for someone to share the silence with.

Below are ten tips on how to show instead of tell.

  1. Use descriptive language to paint a picture: Instead of telling the reader that a character is happy, show them by describing their smiling face, the way they bounce on their toes, or the joyful sound of their laughter.

  2. Use sensory details: Include sensory details such as smells, sounds, and textures to make the scene come alive for the reader.

  3. Use action: Rather than telling the reader that a character is angry, show them by describing the character slamming a door, clenching their fists, or pacing back and forth.

  4. Use dialogue: Dialogue can be a powerful tool for showing character traits, emotions, and motivations.

  5. Use body language: Instead of saying John was irritated, describe the character's physical reactions, such as tensed muscles, twitching eyes, or furrowed brows, can reveal a lot about their emotional state. Let the reader figure out John is irritated through his body language.

  6. Use setting: The setting of a scene can reveal a lot about the character's emotions, attitudes, and motivations. For example, a character standing alone on a beach at sunset may signify feelings of isolation or contemplation. Instead of saying Sue was sad, use setting to show she was sad. Sue stared at the room her husband used to use as an office. The coloring of everything looked drab without him in it. A tear ran down her cheek.

  7. Use internal thoughts: Describe the character's internal thoughts, feelings, and reactions to events. This can give the reader insight into their emotions and motivations.

  8. Use metaphor and simile: Comparing one thing to another can be a powerful way to convey emotion and create vivid imagery.

  9. Use pacing: Varying the pacing of a scene can reveal the character's emotional state. For example, a character moving quickly through a scene may signify nervousness or urgency.

  10. Use symbolism: Symbolism can be a powerful way to convey emotion and meaning without explicitly stating it. For example, a wilted flower may signify feelings of loss or defeat.


Here are five examples of telling sentences and their corresponding showing rewrites:

  1. Telling: She was happy to see him. Showing: A wide grin spread across her face as she rushed towards him, throwing her arms around his neck in a tight embrace.

  2. Telling: He was tired after a long day at work. Showing: His eyes drooped and his shoulders sagged as he trudged up the stairs, each step feeling heavier than the last.

  3. Telling: The room was messy. Showing: Clothes littered the floor, books were piled haphazardly on the desk, and empty takeout containers were strewn across the room.

  4. Telling: The food was delicious. Showing: The aroma of garlic and herbs filled the air, making my mouth water as I took the first bite. The flavors exploded in my mouth, each bite more satisfying than the last.

  5. Telling: The sun was setting over the horizon. Showing: The sky was painted with shades of pink, orange, and purple as the sun dipped below the horizon, casting long shadows across the landscape.

Here are five exercises to help improve your showing, instead of telling.

  1. Write a scene without using any dialogue tags or adverbs. Instead, show the emotions and actions of the characters through their body language and tone of voice.

  2. Take a common emotion, such as anger or sadness, and describe it through sensory details. Show how it feels physically and emotionally, rather than simply telling the reader that the character is feeling a certain way.

  3. Write a paragraph without using any abstract nouns, such as "love" or "hate." Instead, show the emotion through specific actions, thoughts, or dialogue.

  4. Rewrite a paragraph that uses telling language, such as "John was nervous," using specific details to show the nervousness, such as "John's hands shook as he fumbled with his keys, and his heart raced as he tried to calm his thoughts."

  5. Write a descriptive paragraph about a setting or object without using any adjectives. Instead, show the characteristics and qualities of the setting or object through sensory details and specific language.

Here is a paragraph written in a telling fashion:

Samantha was a shy and introverted girl. She had long brown hair that fell in loose waves around her face, and big, doe-like eyes that were always downcast. She wore oversized sweaters and baggy jeans, always trying to blend into the background. Her voice was soft and barely audible, and she spoke only when spoken to. Samantha had few friends, preferring the company of books and her own thoughts. Her parents worried about her social life but didn't know how to help her break out of her shell. Despite her reserved nature, Samantha had a rich inner world, full of dreams and imaginings that she kept close to her heart.

This is more like a summary. The reader is so distant from what is happening. The reader doesn't experience anything with the character. No one can read an entire novel written like this. Small segments to move something along fast are okay here and there, but not everything.

Here is the same paragraph rewritten to show instead of tell.

Samantha walked into the room, her long brown hair falling in loose waves around her face. Her eyes were downcast, and she fidgeted with the strap of her oversized sweater as she made her way to an empty seat. She avoided eye contact with the other students, who chatted and laughed loudly around her. As she pulled out a book from her bag, she tried to focus on the words in front of her, but her mind drifted off to the world of her own thoughts. She imagined herself as the heroine of the story, battling dragons and saving kingdoms, her voice strong and confident. Samantha often felt more comfortable in her imaginary world than in reality, where she struggled to make friends and express herself. Her parents tried to encourage her to join clubs or sports teams, but Samantha found solace in the pages of her books and the safety of her own company.

While showing is an effective technique in writing, there are instances when telling is necessary. Telling is useful for providing essential information to the readers quickly and efficiently. For example, if the story needs to convey background information or provide context for the plot, telling may be the most efficient way to do so. In addition, there may be times when the story needs to move quickly, and showing every detail would slow down the pace. In such cases, telling can be used to move the story forward and keep the readers engaged. It is essential to strike a balance between showing and telling in writing to keep the story interesting and to provide the necessary information. Knowing when and how to use telling effectively can enhance the storytelling experience for both the author and the reader.


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