Writing: Showing vs. Telling


By Karen Cioffi

Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . we’ve all heard of, or read about the showing and telling aspect of writing: you must show, not tell.

But there are those out there just beginning a writing career and may be uncertain as to the importance of this writing strategy.

Well, it’s important.

While there must be some amount of exposition in your story, it should be limited. Work to keep it short and sweet. And, be sure not to use information dump.

But, what exactly does it mean to show rather than tell in your writing?

Writer’s Digest gives some of the best advice I’ve read on this topic. It’s by author and editor Jeff Gerke and is especially helpful to new writers, but useful to us all:

“There’s a question you can ask of any passage you feel may be telling. You ready? Get the passage in front of you and ask this of it: Can the camera see it?”

How great is that?

Now, keep in mind that ‘the camera can’t see it all. Things like tastes, smells, sounds, won’t be visible in the camera, so use your discretion with this tool.

Okay, let’s look at an example of telling:

April walked around in a daze. She felt awful. Her husband left her with two little young children. She cried all the time. She felt overwhelmed, but kept doing the things she had to do. It seemed as if her soul ached, and she felt like screaming. She begged for God’s help.

Here’s an example of showing:

He wasn’t supposed to leave; we promised to stay married forever. April pulled the sheets from her bed and threw them to the floor. Doing the chores and taking care of the kids helped her hold on . . . she had to hold on.  How could he leave? Tears trickled down her cheeks. She bent forward with her head in her hands. Please, God, bring him home…please…please help me. Weeping softly in her hands, her body began to tremble; then, the tears gushed. An indescribable ache took hold – in the very depths of her soul – an ache in a place never felt before. A tortured scream crept up into her throat, ready to burst forth. She fell to her knees and buried her face in the mattress. Grabbing a pillow, she pulled it over her head. A blood-curdling scream erupted.

So, that’s the difference.

I made the telling example very basic so you could easily see how they differ.

Showing lets the reader feel the protagonist’s pain, or joy, or excitement. It conveys through action, internal dialogue, and dialogue. This creates a connection and prompts the reader to continue reading.

Sometimes it helps to draw from experiences to get the feeling and words you’re going for. You can also use TV and movies. Watch and study scenes that depict the experience you need to convey. Then, write what you’ve seen.


Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, a successful children’s ghostwriter with 300+ satisfied clients worldwide, and an online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. For children’s writing tips, or if you need help with your children’s story, visit: https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com

You can check out Karen’s books at: https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com/diy/


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deborah lyn said...

WOW, thanks Karen, excellent sample of show don't just tell!
So sad, I'm crying with her.

lastpg said...

Great examples of showing vs telling, Karen. In my experience I've found that it takes practice to learn how to "show," but once you've got it you never forget it. Your article give writers a great way to think of it which should make the skill easier to learn.

Karen Cioffi said...

LOL Deborah, that's the reaction you want! I'd love to one day finish that story, although, not sure if it'll be a memoir or a fiction story.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, you're so right. It does take practice to the the 'showing' skill down. But once you do, you've got it.

Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for tackling this important topic which is often the failure in many authors (new and experienced). I loved your examples and details.

Writers need to work on this important skill because when you submit for publication you don't get a critique or help from the editor but a form rejection--so you never know that telling your story instead of showing it was the reason.


Karen Cioffi said...

Thank you, Terry. The 'showing' in writing can be tricky. And not knowing why your manuscript has been rejected doesn't allow for learning. It could very well be that the manuscript had too much showing.

maryhagenauthorrommance.com said...

Such a great example. Thank you.

Karen Cioffi said...

Thank you, Mary!

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