Show Me, Don’t Tell Me

Show me, don’t tell me” is the most common catchphrase for good writing.

But what does it mean?

Consider this: you could give a great story to a bad writer and it would end up being a terrible book, but even a mediocre story that is written by a great writer will be a good book.

So, style is key in making writing readable and ultimately arriving at being a good writer.

Generally speaking, showing the reader what is happening, but not telling them it is an important style point to remember.

For example, don’t tell the reader that the man is a violent murderer, but show them that his cold, predatory eyes surveyed the room like a wolf seeking out its prey. The readers can work out the rest.

In a nutshell, consider the following important style guidelines:

  • Use descriptions of characters, places and actions to indicate mood, descriptions and narrative. In other words, do not tell the reader that a room is haunted, but rather hint at it by describing the hairs on the back of a character’s neck rising and a sudden chilling running down their spine. This will give more colour to your writing, as oppose it consisting largely of “data dumps“.
  • Avoid lists. Following from the previous point, the biggest warning sign of telling readers things is a list dumping facts onto them. If you struggle with this, try writing shorter sentences with each one focussing on the characters and the story, rather than facts that you want to inject.
  • Avoid using adjectives where you can hint at them. E.g. Telling = The man is very sad; Showing = Tears streamed down the man’s face, contorted with deep emotion.
  • Watch this video and attempt the exercises at the end of it.

Good luck!

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