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Show not Tell

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Sun May 22, 2011 2:34 am
TaylaChase says...

So, I know you're supposed to 'show' not 'tell' when you are writing, and I've been shown several examples, but I can never seem to get it right. My stories usually always end up with the 'tell'. I could really use some advice or suggestions to help me out.
I really want to improve my writing but I just can't seem to get it down right. Maybe I'm just not a very good writer, but if there was some way I could improve, I could really use the help.

Thanks :smt003
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Sun May 22, 2011 8:06 am
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Apple says...

Never say that you're a bad writer because that's not true. There really is only two types of writers: inexperienced and experienced. All you really need is a little practice.

Show, not tell is a very hard thing to get right. Whenever I do reviews on this site it is one of the largest problems I encounter. Many writers at one stage suffer from it, I have, Peter Pan has and I'm pretty sure William Shakespeare wasn't born a literary genius.

I'll start by giving you a definition --

Show: This means that a reader can fall into your MC's shoes and therefore gets first taste of the action. This is the kind of thing you want because it draws the reader in and lets them interact with the other characters, the plot and the setting.

Tell: Instead of falling into the MC's shoes and experiencing first hand, the reader is instead sat in a chair and told every single action from scratching a sore to climbing the stairs with every footfall and ankle role being fleshed out to the thick. Not good, this is definitely not what you want.

So how to avoid this?

It's easy. Write a paragraph about anything. It doesn't matter as long as you have a six sentences in front of you. Then as you go through it with a red pen, get rid of the clunky text that explains exactly how someone looks at the moon and place it in the characters thoughts whether they're complaining about the chirping of the crickets to contemplating what they're going to do with the new harmonica they've bought earlier that morning.


Tell: I walked up the driveway to my car. I pulled open the door and grabbed at the casette sitting on the seat. Quickly, I placed it into the radio and I waited for the tune to start. I looked over the horizin as the music flood the car, and I waited for my friend to appear.

Firstly, that's just bad! Did you notice how many I letters were placed into that. A ridiculous amout. And another note, to minimize the 'tell' refrain from saying I to much or the character's name if you're telling the story from third person. Get a dictionary, it is your best friend in this business.

Show: Walking up the driveway to my car, I opened the door in a tired daze. Going onto the tips of my toes, unfortunately I was to short to see over it, I searched the upholstery for my favourite casette. Where was that damn thing, anyway? That little, white box is the only thing that keeps me awake when I've spent many sleeping hours watching TV with the house cat. My fingers sealed around its hard body and happily I set it into the radio. The music flooded through the speakers, drowning out the distant rumble of thunder. That's better, now all I had to do was wait for my friend and then the real fun would begin.

You see how much more I managed to write and how it was more engaging then the first paragraph (I hope)? That's the kind on thing you want.

All in all, it's not simple though only practice can help you over come it. I suggest writing a paragraph every day and going through with a red pen or joining a storybook RPG. That helped me practice my writing a lot.

Good luck, I hope my information was helpful,
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Mon May 23, 2011 8:19 pm
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Dynamo says...

I agree with Apple, this is one of those things that only practice can help you overcome. My suggestion, try working on some other literary projects to give you more practice. The best thing you can do is start posting in one of the storybooks here in YWS. When I first joined YWS in 2006 I couldn't tell the difference between an adverb and an adjective. Everything I know about writing today I learned through experience by writing stories with my friends.
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Tue May 24, 2011 1:43 am
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Talulahbelle says...

As said above, this will become easier with practice. Don't frett, dearheart.

It helps me to stop, close my eyes and put myself in my character's shoes. Use all that imagination (mine's not that great for a writer, but I try anyway.). Go through that scene you're writing in your head. What feels natural to you? How do you think you would feel about what was happening - how would you go about it if you were the character.

Or you could practice doing it in reverse. Do something simple in your everyday life. Say... doing the dishes. Out loud, say what you would write if you were writing this scene. Feels those details? That movement? What makes that real and how do you translate it into words?

Showing vs Telling is all about making that scene real. Making it come to life. If its real to you, then it'll be real to the reader. Don't over-write it - let it flow. Leave the editing for later!

(As I re-read this, I see that it's a bit confusing - but I can't make my brain work any clearer. I'm sorry. And I hope this helps.)
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Wed May 25, 2011 3:16 pm
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JabberHut says...

The others explained this wonderfully, so listen to them!

Show vs. tell is a difficult concept to understand right away. It takes practice, and everyone learns on their own pace. In fact, there's such a thing as too much show, but that's typically not a problem for those struggling with the concept. Usually those who understand show vs. tell only too well will overdo it. So don't worry about that!

The trick I use is my five senses. Tell the story through your five senses: taste, feel, sight, smell, sound. If your character is eating, you can either:

  • Just tell the reader they're eating. Sarah ate her steak quietly.
  • Show the reader what they're tasting, seeing, smelling, feeling, even hearing (i.e. crunch) in the food. Sarah breathed in the sauce-drenched steak, and as she took that first, delicate bite, her taste buds burst with excitement. The sweet barbecue sauce spilled across her mouth, her teeth devouring the tender meat. etc. etc.

Maybe that'll help you figure things out! As someone else put it, put the reader in the character's shoes. Let's get into their heads!
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