Show, Don’t Tell

Show, Don’t Tell

By Natalie Bright

Show, don’t tell: a basic rule for writers. A concept so simple stated in only three words, yet probably the most difficult for beginning writers to grasp.

We tell readers our story. We TELL them facts about our characters, the setting, or the obstacles they face. Boring. Showing means to explain the world inside of our heads in such a way that readers have a vivid picture inside of what we see with a writers’ eye. It’s as if they’re there, inside of our story.

One of the tools we can use to show is to utilize all five senses. As you write you must breathe, listen, feel, taste, and really see the world inside of your head.

Action verbs are the key.  Everything in your story is doing something. Everything is in motion, transition, or energized from the writers’ eye to the reader through words.


Can you feel the cold and hear the moans?

For from somewhere in the mist, on stormy nights when the rain drove harsh and cold, an undiscovered creature would lift its voice and moan. KNEE-KNOCK RISE by Natalie Babbitt.

Even train tracks can be described with action verbs.

Train tracks ribboned the West, tying mankind together as they cut the land into bite-sized slices for civilization to digest. PRAIRIE SONG by Jodi Thomas

Have you ever considered the action of flour? As the reader you are transplanted to the exact place, watching it float in the light.

Flour swirled in a slant of light and lined the creases of the baker’s neck, salting his hair. BREAD essay by Jane Brox. You can find the rest of this extraordinary piece in the anthology, IN BRIEF, Norton 1999.

He flared his nostrils, smelled the air, pulled the air along the sides of his tongue in a hissing sound and tasted it, but there was nothing. Just summer smells. THE RIVER by Gary Paulsen.

Happy writing!