The Golden Rule: Show Don’t Tell

If you’re a writer, no matter what level, you’ve heard of the golden rule of writing: show don’t tell. What does that really mean, though?

Showing is when you use description, dialogue, body language, and setting to convey what you want to the reader. Telling is basically just throwing it all at them.

When you tell instead of show, your reader may become bored with the story and struggle to keep reading. You want to make sure you get them in your characters’ heads and show as much as you can.

Here are some examples:

Show: I cracked my neck and shoulders, working the stiffness out of my spine. My eyes drooped from staring at my computer screen all day. Water bottles and paper plates littered my desk area. But my “to-do” list was completely crossed off.

Tell: I was really stiff and tired because I had been working all day. I’d had to eat all of my meals at my desk, but at least my to-do list was done.

Which one pulled you into the scene more? I bet it was show!

Now, there are times where it’s appropriate to use show instead of tell. It’s not a cardinal sin, you know! And there is always an exception to the rule.

You don’t want to have massive blocks of text that your reader has to drag their way through. I’ve put down books because I couldn’t stand to read the giant paragraphs describing every detail of a setting.

So you need to create a balance. How do you do that? When do you tell instead of show?

Say you have a character who was given some valuable information. They then have to relay it to another person. Instead of showing the second conversation in great detail, you can simply summarize it, and jump into the conversation where there will be no repetition.

If the reader needs to get information quickly, or if by “showing” you’ll take away from the plot, then go ahead and tell. But if you need to slowly develop a scene, go ahead and use show.

Do you struggle with showing instead of telling? Let me know in the comments!

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