How to Show, Don’t Tell in Your Writing

If you think back to your English or writing classes, you probably remember being told to “show, don’t tell.” As you craft a story, you want to draw the reader in as you paint a picture of the scene. But how do you do this? Try these 6 tips for how to show don’t tell in your writing.

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Live in the Moment

If you relay a story after the fact, it’s easy to forget a lot of details. However, if you put yourself into the story, you can really experience the actions and emotions. So, describe the scene as it unfolds. Think about what would be happening in that very moment as you capture it on paper.

Use the Right Amount of Detail

As a writer, your job is to lay out the scene. You can do this with descriptions, dialogue, action, and more. However, you need to leave some things to the reader’s imagination. Allow the reader to fill in the blanks with his or her mind. It can be difficult to figure out how to strike the right balance. Just try not to overload the reader with page after page of descriptions.

Appeal to the Five Senses

Think about what you’re doing right now. What do you see? What do you feel? Do you hear anything? Are you tasting something? What does it smell like? Appealing to your senses helps others relate to what you’re doing—to put themselves in your shoes. What is the character seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, and smelling? Help the reader insert him or herself into the story by sharing these details.

Refrain from Defining Emotions

Don’t just tell the reader what emotion the character is experiencing. Instead, show us through the character’s actions. Think about movies. There isn’t a narrator to tell you that a person is happy. You watch the character smile and dance around the room.

So, rather than saying that the character is angry, tell us what he looks like when he’s angry. Does he clench his fists and grind his teeth? What happens to his eyebrows? Does he hit his desk? Use these actions to help the reader understand the emotions through the characters’ actions and dialogue.

Limit the Use of the Verb “To Be”

When using the verb “to be,” you end up with the passive voice. Instead, look for stronger verbs to describe what happens. Some of the forms of “to be” include am, are, is, was, was being, could have been, and will have been.

Utilize Solid Comparisons

Using figurative language is a great way to show what’s happening in your story. Think of metaphors and similes that will help the reader visualize the story. Just stay away from ones that are too cliché and overused. To put this and our other show don’t tell tips into practice, check out our Professional Writing exercise.

What advice do you have for others about how to show don’t tell in your writing? Share your tips with us in the comments below.

P.S. Become a better writer. Find out more here.


  • Jamie Goodwin

    Jamie graduated from Brigham Young University- Idaho with a degree in English Education. She spent several years teaching and tutoring students at the elementary, high school, and college level. She currently works as a contract writer and curriculum developer for online education courses. In her free time, she enjoys running and spending time with her boys!

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