3 Tips to Show and Not Tell Your Readers

by - June 14, 2019


"Show, don't tell."

These three words might be tiny, but they carry a big piece of advice. In fact, I'm sure you've heard this before.

But the question is this: HOW do you show and not tell your readers?

Today, I'm going to answer that very question! I struggle with this myself, but I've also learned a few tricks, and I'd like to share those with you.

Here are 3 tips to show and not tell your readers.

TIP 1: DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTERS.

It's difficult to show how your characters would react if you don't know them wellaka, you haven't fully developed them.

How do you develop your characters?

For starters, at least, every character must have a GOAL or MOTIVATION or DESIRE that they would do anything to reach.

They must have a FEAR that they would do anything to avoid.

Finally, they must have a MORAL WEAKNESS/FAULT that they must overcome.

Using these three things, you will be able to better determine your character's voice, attitude, and reaction in certain situations.

TIP 2. GET INTO YOUR CHARACTER'S HEAD AND SHOW ME WHAT HE IS EXPERIENCING.

Some writers struggle with getting in to their characters' heads. I think this is partially because writers have not fully developed their characters, so they don't know how he or she would react in certain situations.

Before you start your story, flesh out your characters. Develop them so you know more about them and how they would react to different situations. (Start with using the method I showed you in the last point.)

If you have already developed your characters, you should be able to get in to their heads. Write what your character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches. Use the five senses.

Don't tell me the little girl is adorable. Show me why she is adorable. Show me what she's wearing, what color her hair and eyes are, and what about her makes her adorablesuch as the way she acts and speaks.

Get in to your character's head and SHOW readers what he or she is experiencing.

TIP 3: JUST CUT THE TELLING.

Finally, just cut the telling. I did this several times when editing my novelette, Healed by the Storm. A beta reader pointed out the places she noticed I was telling. It was very helpful, and I was able to simply cut them and slightly change the sentence(s).

Here, let me give you some examples.

TELLING #1
John looked at her, startled by the strange question. Sitting up, he said, “No, of course not. Why would you think that?”

SHOWING #1
John stared at her. Sitting up, he said, “No, of course not. Why would you think that?”

Do you see what I did there? All I did was cut the "startled by the strange question" part and replaced "looked" with "stared."

TELLING #2:
Suddenly, she heard a knock at the door. Miriam hesitated. Cautiously, she stood and slowly made her way to the door.

SHOWING #2
Suddenly, she heard a knock at the door. Miriam got to her feet and slowly made her way to the door.

Instead of telling my you that Miriam hesitated to open the door, I SHOWED you that Miriam "got to her feet and slowly made her way to the door," and you automatically assumewithout me telling youthat Miriam is doing this with hesitation.

TELLING #3:
“Miriam, what are you doing here?” her husband asked anxiously. He hugged her tightly, as though he would never let her go.

SHOWING #3:
“Miriam, what are you doing here?” Her husband hugged her tightly, as though he would never let her go.

The "asked anxiously" is telling. So I just cut that and moved on with the last sentence: "Her husband hugged her tightly, as though he would never let her go."


So there you go! Three tips to show and not tell your readers.

Do you have any questions (either specific or broad) about writing or blogging? ASK THEM HERE! I LOVE receiving answers, and I read each and every one of them, so be sure to stop by!

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what about you?

Do you struggle with showing and not telling? Did any of these tips surprise you? Which one did you find the most helpful?

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8 comments

  1. Great post! Definitely something I should be working on. Each of your tips was unique and very helpful. But how do think getting into a character’s head might be different with an omnipotent narrator?

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    1. Thank you, Eliana! So glad it was helpful!

      Great question! (I think you mean omniscient narrator, not omnipotent?) I actually don't have much experience with omniscient narrators, so I'm not going to pretend that I know everything. I do think that the tips I presented in the post can apply to omniscient narrators.

      I'm not sure if you mean omniscient narrator as in the narrator is written in first person, like C.S. Lewis did with Narnia. Or if you mean like "Little Women," where there's an omniscient narrator who isn't written in first person, but is just telling what all of the characters are feeling.

      In Tip #2 in the post, I say, "If you have already developed your characters, you should be able to get in to their heads. Write what your character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches. Use the five senses. Don't tell me the little girl is adorable. Show me WHY she is adorable. Show me what she's wearing, what color her hair and eyes are, and what about her makes her adorable—such as the way she acts and speaks."

      If I am misunderstanding you, Eliana, let me know. And, of course, if you have follow-up questions, feel free to ask! :D

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    2. Oh, yes I did mean omniscient. *facepalm* It is 3rd person, and the narrator can tell you about what’s going on in the villain’s mansion, even if the main character isn’t there. Good answer! I will need to see about applying this. :)

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    3. I'm glad it was helpful! You got this, girl! :D

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    1. Thank you, Hazel! So glad you found them helpful! :D

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  3. Hey! I just wanted to let you know that I tagged you on my blog for the Sunshine Blogger Award. (You may recognize me from YDubs.) No pressure to do it, but if you want to here it is! https://goodstorylili.wordpress.com/2019/06/18/the-sunshine-blogger-award/

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    1. Hey Lili! Aw, thank you for tagging me! Actually, I recently did the Sunshine Blogger Award, but thank you for thinking of me!! :D

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