Thursday, February 9, 2012

Show, Don't Tell

Week two of Writers’ Corner, and I’m glad you returned. Would you take a moment to become a follower, if you’ve enjoyed the blog so far? Thanks!

The winner of the critique giveaway is Rosilind Jukic from Zagreb, Croatia! I look forward to reading your submission, Rosilind. Please review the rules from last week’s Writers’ Corner post and then send me your WIP as an attachment through email. My contact info is above.

As we discussed last week, revising and editing are a necessary part of the writing process. It’s easy to catch obvious spelling or grammatical errors, but the ability to self-edit is a skill acquired over time. In addition to seeking feedback/critiques from fellow writers, good writing tools are important.  

If you were to look at a published writer’s bookshelf, you’d see a few dog-eared writing books. My two favorites are: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print, by Renni Browne and Dave King, and Getting The Words Right: 39 ways to improve your writing, by Theodore A. Rees Cheney.

Both books were invaluable during the early stages of my writing career. They’re chock-full of helpful advice and examples to help with editing. They can be ordered inexpensively through

Now, let’s look at one admonition a writer might get from an editor: Show, don’t tell.

You might ask—isn’t all writing telling? Not exactly. Mastering this concept can be a challenge. “Telling” can creep into even the most experienced writer’s work. After all, the writer sees the scene clearly in their mind. It’s easy to forget the reader doesn’t have the same vantage point.

The editing phase is the perfect time to uncover telling scenes. As writers, we owe it to our readers to dig a little deeper—put them on the stage with the characters.

So what does “show, don’t tell” mean?

As Mark Twain put it, “Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.”

Here’s an example:

Dawn was distraught that her terrier Fluffy lay on the side of the road dead. She felt guilty because it was her fault for letting him run free instead of putting him on a leash.

Dawn stumbled down the sidewalk. Her mind refused to believe what her eyes told her. Fluffy, her little brown terrier, lay in a crumpled heap on the roadside where a speeding car had tossed him like yesterday’s garbage.

Dawn dropped to her knees in front of Fluffy. She ran a trembling hand across his soft fur. He shivered one final breath before his body grew still.

“Fluffy!” Dawn scooped the dog into her arms and clutched him to her chest.

“Why?” She wailed. “Why did I let you out of the house without your leash?”

She rocked back and forth, sobbing, with tears streaming down her cheeks. The neighbors stepped onto their porch and craned their necks to see what had happened.

The differences between the two scenes are pretty obvious. After reading the second scene, the reader knows Dawn is distraught and guilt-ridden without the writer writing either word. Not only that, the writer has engaged the reader’s senses to the point where they wonder how the rest of the scene may unfold. This keeps the reader from putting down the book.

This concept applies to both fiction and non-fiction. Whether you’re writing an article or a book, the best way to share the story is with anecdotes or scenes with action and dialogue.

Now, take a look at your work in progress (WIP), and see if there are scenes you can rewrite to show your story better.

And if you have a favorite book on writing, please share in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.


  1. Thanks, Laura. This is really good information for writing. And your second example is so much better than the first. Thanks for sharing these tips.
    I'm praying that God blesses your blog and your writing ministry!
    Bless you,

    1. Thanks so much, Gail, for your encouraging words!

  2. I've read your stuff off and on at different sites, am so glad to find a site that not only has great talent, but great tips!

    1. Thanks, Mollie. I appreciate your kind comment. I hope you'll enjoy following my blog!

  3. Great example and comments. I am just learning to write so found this very interesting. I'm your newest follower and would love you to follow back.

    1. Hi Shanda. I'm glad you enjoyed my blog. Thanks for following! Your blog is beautiful. I look forward to reading more of it.