Writing Tip #9: Show, Don’t Tell


Brian's Writing Tip #9: Show Don't Tell

“Show, don’t tell. This concept is talked about so often by writing teachers that it starts to sound cliché, but trust me, there is no concept more important and more overlooked by young writers. By show, don’t tell, we don’t mean that descriptive details are always necessary. We simply mean that concrete examples and illustrations nearly always make for better writing than abstractions, generalizations, and hypotheticals. Don’t give me an explanation when you can paint me a picture. Don’t tell me Mrs. Crabtree is mean; show her being cruel. Don’t tell me the families of deployed soldiers make great sacrifices; show me a soldier’s family sacrificing. Or, as Anton Chekhov put it, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.'”


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. Roberta Gallant
    Roberta Gallant01-28-2015

    Brien, people always use to-be verbs and other page words
    every time they write. They need to start using strong action
    vervs and other specific words. Today, people clue themselves
    to dead words. Why?

    In your writing website, I saw nothing but to-be verbs and other abused
    words (such as “am”, “is”, “was”, “be”, “being”, “were”, “are”, etc. You
    should now say – for example, the following:

    1. In the dark tunnel crept the monster.
    2. Sitting in a roller coaster pumps my heart.
    2. In the snow sits a child.
    3. On the New York Island stands the Statue of Liberty.
    4. Jill completed her assignment on time for the teacher.
    5. The patient told her husband to leave the room.
    6. This morning, the nurse distributed the medications.
    7. I supervise a small business.
    8. He / she manages a department store.
    9. Max owns a big restaurant.
    10. Steve motors away from a shark.
    11. Kate fears notebook checks.
    12. Like his / her friends, Jan excels at English and Grammar.

  2. Marie

    On the other hand, if you’re writing a multibook series spanning decades and/or the multiple locations (continents or worlds depending on genre), sometimes its okay to have a character get a communication summarizing something rather than coming up with another 10 characters and a new setting to illustrate what is going on there and then following those characters for the rest of the series. Too much of that and your main character has no room to grow/change and entire books will be snippets mostly jumping from secondary character to secondary character.
    Examples: David Weber’s Honor Harrington and Armageddon Reef serieses, (but not his March Upcountry series – there he kept the focus on Roger even though he continued to use many viewpoints), Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, and even Earlene Fowler’s Benni Harper mysteries
    Examples done right: Tolkien. He kept the focus on the fellowship even when they split up. He didn’t continue to update with events in the Shire, Bree, and Rivendell after the fellowship moved on.
    Can you tell you touched upon a pet peeve : )

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