Article: Showing versus Telling

Showing versus Telling
Bringing Your Writing To Life
by Melissa Alvarez

Show don’t tell – that’s easy to say but what exactly does it mean?

When you show your reader the characters and action in your novel, they are drawn into another world and will keep turning the pages until THE END. If you tell the reader the story then expect them to lay the book down and pick up one that will show them the story. There is a place for telling within your novel but if you tell all the time the characters will not come to life.

Exactly how do you show and not tell? Let me show you through an example:


Sally climbed the steps and rescued the gray cat.

All right that was telling. I told you that Sally climbed the steps and saved the cat. But now I’m going to show you…


Sally sat back on her haunches and pushed her hat back on her head. Where was that meowing sound coming from? She tugged off her gardening gloves and tossed them on the ground then walked toward the house in search of the troubled cat. She followed the cries to the top of the steps where she found a tiny gray cat trapped between the screen door and the wooden one. “You poor thing!” Sally said to the anxious animal as she opened the door. The cat scurried down the steps and through the yard while Sally watched with a smile.

See the difference? In the example of telling we know Sally saved the cat from the top of the stairs but that’s all. When we show instead of tell we know much more. Sally is a caring person who tends flowers in her yard and will search out a distressed animal that needs help. She doesn’t need thanks but is happy that the animal is free. We also know that the cat is scared because it is described as anxious and it bolts down the steps and across the yard as soon as it is let out.

When you can show your reader the action they will finish your book with a sense of satisfaction and you will have gained a loyal fan.