Monday, May 3rd, 2010

MM: Show, Don’t Tell

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It’s one of the cardinal rules for writing, though you hear it more with fiction than non-fiction. (It applies to both, though.)

Show, Don’t Tell.

Instead of saying,

“He was nice to small children and animals.”

You write,

“As he dashed out the door to put out the fire, he paused to pat the toddler on the head and scratch the dog behind the ears.”

Instead of saying,

“We’re offering great deals!”

You write,

“Buy now and we’ll pay for a European vacation for you and your dozen closest friends!”

Instead of saying,

“The teenager was bored.”

You write,

“Charlie flipped through his pile of video games, dashing them to the floor in disgust, before flinging himself to the couch in despair.”

Instead of saying,

“This is the best tool you’ll ever buy!”

You write,

“This tool not only fixes computers, it will save your marriage, create world peace, and save the environment, all for the low, low price of $19.95.”

Instead of saying,

“Her dress was tacky and cheap.”

You write,

“Her dress was avocado green polyester that had to be a leftover from the 1970s, and the way it clashed with her “Autumn Sunrise” hair made us long for the sunglasses we’d left at the rest stop.”

You get the idea, right?

Good writing is a voyage of discovery.

You want your reader to discover the man is good to children because the reader sees it, not because you told them.

Really, it’s more fun for everybody that way.

9 Comments on “MM: Show, Don’t Tell”


  1. Great reminders– I always fall into the trap of telling instead of inviting the reader to experience the story.
    .-= Karen Putz´s last blog ..Start the Ripple and Inspire Someone Today! =-.


  2. That’s because it’s such an EASY trap to fall into. I don’t know what it says about us writers, that this is something we just never seem to learn. We keep making the same mistakes over and over again. (Though, thankfully, this is what proof-reading is for, so the mistakes aren’t necessarily permanent.)
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..MM: Show, Don’t Tell =-.


  3. How true, Deb! And what a chuckle your inventive examples brought!


  4. Jeanne–Glad you liked them. Examples are usually the hardest part!
    .-= –Deb´s last blog ..MM: Show, Don’t Tell =-.


  5. I know what you mean, Deb! Just wrote a few Word Sell posts (for later posting) that required examples, and they can be tough to write. Yours were quite creative, though! Really enjoyed them!


  6. I think we normally fall into the trap of doing this because we’re writing ahead of ourselves, wanting to get to the first kiss or the car chase or whatever…maybe it’s laziness?!

    (Nice examples too, btw!)
    .-= Simon´s last blog ..Ice cream headaches and stumbling blocks =-.

  7. --Deb

    Laziness for sure, and yes, eagerness to get through the “boring” parts and to good stuff. But mostly, I think it’s because that’s the way we TALK. When you’re telling a story, you might say something like “The fog was as thick as a man with a concussion trying to learn calculus” but mostly, you’re going to say, “It was foggy, and…”


  8. [...] Show, Don’t Tell: Showing tells more and in a more interesting way than telling. I read these articles whenever I come across them because I need constant reminders and tips. [Link: Brad Shorr] [...]


  9. [...] wrote recently, when discussing the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule, that writing is about taking the reader on a voyage of [...]