Show, Don’t Tell – Invite the Reader Into Your Writing
“Show, Don’t Tell” is some of the best advice ever given to writers. In fact, it might be considered one of the Golden Rules of writing.
Don’t tell your readers what to feel, how to react, what to think. Paint a picture with your carefully chosen words, and their feelings will rise naturally.
Showing, rather than telling, makes the reader part of the experience and not just a bystander.
In his most commonly repeated quoted, Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
You may want to examine your own writing for places where you can “move your readers into the room” rather than describing a scene as an observer. Engage their senses! Help them see, hear, smell, feel and even taste the elements of the story. Not only will the readers be more involved in your writing, but you’ll probably enjoy it more as well!
Let’s look at some examples of telling, then rewrite them as showing. You may want to continue with your own rewrites.
Telling: Mimi was so angry! Her favorite doll was broken. She just wanted to get even with her brother. She decided to smash his favorite toy in return. When the new puppy ran in, knocking down her other dolls, she realized she had been wrong. She felt very sad about her unfair feelings.
Showing: Mimi was shaking so hard she could barely pick up the pieces of her favorite doll Arabella. Her brother Ben was a jerk. She stomped toward his red fire engine, hammer in hand. Just then, the new puppy bounded into the room and leaped onto the shelf of fragile toys. Mimi lunged, just barely saving Miranda from Arabella’s fate, then burst into tears. “Oh Ben, ” she cried to the empty room. “I’m so sorry!”
Telling: Lucy was determined that she would dance again, in spite of the gloomy prognosis from her doctor. Every day she worked hard to regain her strength, and every day she imagined her future as a dancer.
Showing: Lucy’s legs felt rubbery and weak, and her lower back ached after taking the first ten steps of the day. No matter what her doctors said, she would dance again. She clicked her playlist, and the strains of “Swan Lake” filled the room. She imagined herself gliding, swimming, moving effortlessly. Her upper torso swayed gracefully, her arms twirled slowly, as she watched in the full-length practice mirror. For a minute, the mirror shimmered, then reflected a stage full of ballerinas, with herself in the center. She could hear the applause, smell the sweet incense of warm wood and sweat. The aroma lifted her up, like a fragrant prayer, as she took a deep breath and took five more steps.