Show, Don’t Tell: What This Piece of Writing Advice Actually Means

The oldest writing advice consists of only three words: show, don’t tell. Plenty of interpretations of this slightly vague but absolutely essential piece of writing advice exist, and today we’re sharing a list of other writing advice, all of which harken to the old adage of “show, don’t tell.”

1. Know the difference

Telling is an abstract way of conveying actions and emotions to a reader. It invokes recounting of a scene, which puts some distance between the reader and the story. This is the inherent problem with telling. On the other hand, showing places your reader within the action. By letting the reader see what happens in the scene instead of recounting it, the reader experiences the scene in real time. So how do you differentiate the two? Of all the telltale signs, the most obvious is the overuse of adverbs.

2. “Telling” is not a problem

The advice initially makes it seem like “telling” is a terrible thing to do, but that’s not the case. Both “showing” and “telling” are significant writing processes; however, identifying the difference between them so you know when to use them is important. It just so happens that “showing” often works more efficiently. So when does telling work?

3. Use dialogue to your advantage

You can let a scene play out by using your dialogue. Speak through your characters by letting them talk about what they see, what they feel, and what they’re experiencing. Your characters’ recount of an event through dialogue is also one way of using “telling.”

4. Take your senses into account

The easiest way to take this piece of advice is to consider your five senses. The reason showing and not telling is a great writing advice is because it puts the reader within the scene, and the best technique to do this is by describing the scene through your own five senses. As a result, the readers will not only imagine themselves in a scene but also actually place themselves in it.

5. Utilize metaphors, not similes

All good prose come with a bit of flowery words and figures of speech. However, when choosing which figures of speech to use, metaphors are usually better at showing than similes. When you choose metaphors, try as much as possible to avoid the usual ones. You can absolutely create your own metaphors. Just make sure they’re relatable.