MPL Writers Group

Show, Don’t Tell

“Show, don’t tell.”

You have probably heard this phrase before but what does it mean?

Let’s go over two examples of showing versus telling:



Sharon got angry and stormed out of the room, which scared Rowena.



“I’m done with you!” Sharon screamed as she twisted the rusted knob.

She ripped open the door and almost took it off its squeaky hinges. Sharon slammed the door behind her with a loud crack. The door slam’s echo reverberated in the room to the point where Rowena was shaking in her shoes. Her heart beat against her rib cage as she whimpered at the door her estranged friend stormed through.


So what is the difference between the two? 

Telling is being the observer watching the story unfold. Showing is being immersed in the story unfolding with the use of sensory details and actions. 



Telling is not the best approach to storytelling as it is often boring and puts readers too much on the side lines. While it does give the facts of what is happening in the story, there are no emotions involved. Emotional elements are important for helping readers get engrossed in the story, which is why showing different sensory details regarding sight, sound, and other senses are important. As a storyteller, you want to draw readers in to make them feel like they are taking part of the story.

Think of this concept from this perspective: would you rather watch people ride a roller coaster or would you rather be riding on the roller coaster itself and experience the fast pace, dips, and other gravity-defying turns that come with it? Which of the two would be more terrifying and exciting? Which would you be more emotionally invested in?

Showing story details is also excellent for character development. Just telling details about the character would make for dry reading. Instead, showing the characters’ actions and some dialogue helps tell the reader more about the character than what telling would allow.


Helen was scared in going down the basement to look for her cat.



Helen gripped the cracked railing as she aimed her flashlight down the moldering stone steps.

“Sammy?” she called down. “Are you down there?”

She took her first step down, which made her heart race in her chest. Her footsteps echoed down the corridor and pounded in her ears as stale air filled her nostrils. She gripped the flashlight tight as she reached the bottom of the stairs. Helen turned around and gasped after seeing the door she went through slam shut behind her.


Telling the reader what happens is not as engaging because you don’t get to feel or identify with the character. Showing is more effective because it not only allows an opportunity to get into the character’s shoes but learn more about them through their actions, some of their speech, and what they are capable of (or not capable of) in the story. Also, showing allows more details of the characters’ environments to be fleshed out, as well as sensations being experienced.

Is telling to be completely avoided? Not entirely as there sometimes needs to be a balance to be struck. Below is an example of showing being utilized with telling:


Rick grabbed his ID card and keys. He did not want to be late and not be let into his work building at the same time.


Dialogue as stated before is also effective in place of telling, as speech can give us into a window of what characters think:


Greg facepalmed himself. “James, dude, what were you thinking?”

“I thought they were a legit business!” James held his hands out in protest. “I mean, I was desperate! I needed the money to pay our rent!”

“You did not bother to check that they were from the mob?” Greg growled. “Why didn’t you tell me first?”

“Because I thought I had things handled!”

Greg pointed a rigid finger at his roommate. “Oh, you mean like your SUV that got repossessed? You can barely handle a houseplant!”


Dialogue not only helps tell us what is going on from the characters themselves but well-written dialogue can help flesh out the characters and give the readers a good idea of who they are based on their dialogue and actions alone.

Overall, and when it doubt, show the reader the story. It will make a major difference between a disinterested audience and an audience who will come back wanting to see what happens next.

And if  you have time, take a stab at this writing prompt below:




Additional Resources:

Brooke Vitale – Show, Don’t Tell – A Guide to Stronger Writing, With Details

Reedsy – Show, Don’t Tell – Tips and Examples of The Golden Rule

Self-Publishing School – Show Don’t Tell

Jericho Writers – Show, Don’t Tell: What It Means And Why It Matters