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This is not show and tell

We have all heard the phrase “show, don’t tell”.  It is one that is drilled into our heads during freshman composition class or on a manuscript critique.   The phrase is frustrating and infuriating, but by incorporating its mechanism into your writing process, your stories will climb to new heights.

Fiction lives within the world of a reader’s imagination, and in order to keep their imagination blooming for the duration of your text, you have to keep them hooked.  Keep them entertained.  Keep their imagination juices flowing!

Here are a couple of points that many writers rely heavily upon to keep their readers involved in a story:

1. Descriptions

Throughout your story, take some time to detail settings, scenes, and characters.  Do not rely heavily on the physical appearances, but more of the actions of the setting, scene, and character.

  • What is the character doing?
  • What are his facial expressions?
  • How is he standing?
  • What is he holding?
  • What does the time of day look and feel like?
  • What are the scents of the scene?


Telling:  He stands with the knife in his hand.

Showing:  The full moon rising into the midnight obliterates all shadows as he stands in the crowded street, exposed.  The glint of the blade in his right hand catches the moonlight like a beacon in the night.

2. Dialogue

Always remember that it is more memorable to hear someone’s emotions than to be told about their emotions.  Utilize this literary form to your benefit.  Use it to convey emotions, moods, actions, and suspense.


Telling:  She is sad as he walks away.

Showing:   “Damian, please,” she says, watching him walk out the door. “Please don’t leave me.”

3. Sensory Language

Ah, my favorite literary device!  This is where you allow your reader to see, taste, hear, smell, and touch the world you have created.  Imbue them with the power of your words by evoking their senses!


Telling:  She does not like the taste of meat.

Showing:  Her mouth is full of a warmth and iron.  Fibers of gristle stick in-between her teeth, cutting sharply into her gums.  Addy cannot chew one more bite.  The lump of deer flesh in her mouth is like decaying death.

4. Be specific

Do not use vague language when trying to convey feelings, emotions, or moods.  What you think sounds philosophical will do nothing more than confuse and irritate your reader.


Telling:  In his entire life, he has never ever heard anything like it before.

Showing:  The light tune dances through the air and swirls around his head, enchanting him.  His mind absorbs the sweet lyrics, and at this moment he is at complete peace with his life.

Always remember that you are writing the story for your reader, not for yourself.  Captivate their attention by pulling them into the world that you are creating, making them feel that they are a part of it.

©2013, Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivative – visit The Sarcastic Muse  for the original source of this content.

One thought on “This is not show and tell

  1. Pingback: Set your story for life | The Sarcastic Muse

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