Writing Tip 27: Show vs Tell

black and white people bar men
Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Show Vs Tell Who will win this duel?

Showing means evoking emotions through your storytelling making the reader feel as if they are in the scene by painting visuals through descriptive writing. Showing tends to entertain readers.

Telling is an informative form of writing where you’re simply stating facts. Calms the situation when showing was escalating the story.

Telling usually moves the story along quicker and it’s used when detailing the scene is not relevant for the story.

Showing doesn’t necessarily slow the storytelling but it adds dimensions and depth to the characters and scenes. Showing is used when you want your readers to visualize what your characters are experiencing and going through. It adds drama and tension to your plot.


Tell – The room was so dark that I stubbed my toes.

Show – I stubbed my toes on the furniture as I maneuvered through the room and my eyes tried to adjust to the darkness.

That was probably not a great example but you get what I mean.

Showing is impactful and eventful. While telling is sometimes dull and can leave out a lot of information. Showing is sometimes viable and preferred over telling. However, there are some stories and instances where telling is adequate to the storyline.

For example, in a flashback scene where only a piece of information will be relevant is better to tell than to show an entire scene of this flashback.

In my book The Scarlet Romance, I used flashback as a show versus tell because the entire flashback gives readers and the MC a point of view that with telling would’ve been boring and uneventful. Plus it would’ve been a thesis dissertation with the amount of information I wanted the characters to know and the readers to understand.

When to use show instead of tell

1. When you want your reader to be invested. Give readers a vivid insight into what is occurring when you want the reader to remember that scene.

2. When your characters are emotional. This will show empathy and describe the kind of person/creature your character is and will make them relatable. Not every emotional scene is necessary but if the main character just broke up with their lover then show how they felt. Use show to express if they are scared, angry, happy, or sad as it relates to the story because sometimes a simple tell will suffice.

3. When creating platonic, romantic, sexual, or family chemistry. Is easier to tell that they are friends or lovers or family but if you show it then it means something 10 times more. Show how their heart skips a beat when they see him/her or how their friendship is so close that they share clothes. Also, you can show how their family bond is so tight that they tell each other’s secret or played together. Maybe they don’t get along and they bicker or argue.

4. When your readers need to be transported. If the story is set half the time in the kingdom and then they are in a cave show this cave. Let the readers be transported to the cave through their senses also and not skip over it. Caution: Don’t explain this in three pages when the character will only be there for one scene. Explaining it in one or two paragraphs would be fine.

5. When something is important. Not every scene in your story is important. So ask yourself is this dialogue important or would this scene move the storyline forward? If your answer is yes then show the crap out of it. Do you want the reader to remember the scenes? Then show it.

When to use tell instead of show

1. Action scenes sometimes can slow down a story if too much is shown. However, not showing can also dull down the scene if not enough is explained. Show enough to let the readers engrossed in the moment. Not every punch, or sword swing, needs a detailed explanation.

For example in my book The Scarlet Romance there are several fight scenes and a war where all my main characters are fighting different gods. I focused on my main characters fight with showing and then I used telling for some of the other fights. This lets readers know that even though there is action between the main characters, the scene is a chaotic mess with fighting all around. I also explained the throbbing pain of the wounds and the screaming civilians instead of showing every sword swing.

2. Using transitions. Use transitions to move the story from one place to the next in a clear efficient manner.

3. When you’re being redundant. When characters reappear in your story. There is no need to show their features or character description when you already showed it in a previous chapter. Just simply stating that they are in the room or are speaking or having some sort of interaction will suffice.

4. When the emotions are too high. Show enough to get the reader invested and then calm the situation down by telling. Too much showing loses the impact of the emotions. Don’t be melodramatic. Use telling to convey that their emotions are there without the need to show it in every sentence.

5. When you want to deliver a heart-stopping news or secret. Lead up to the moment with intense emotions through showing and then tell the reader the news.

6. When the scene is not important. When your character is driving, eating, or showering, or sleeping. These scenes are not important unless in the drive there’s an accident, they choked on their food and nearly died, they slipped and broke their head while showering, or they were suffocated while they slept. If there is nothing of importance occurring in that scene then tell it instead of showing it.

Tell/show me other ways you used show instead of tell in the comments.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s