Tag Archives: show don’t tell

Show, Don’t Tell Challenge Share Day


How did you go with the challenge this month?

As a reminder of what this month’s challenge entailed, or for those who are coming in late and still want to have a go, this was the challenge:

Show, Don’t Tell Challenge

1. Below I will list three ‘telling’ sentences and a photo.

2. Your challenge is to pick one of the sentences or the photo and write a descriptive paragraph or flash fiction (no more than 300 words).

3. You must not use the ‘banned’ word in your piece.

4. You must use each of the five senses.

5. You have two weeks to complete the challenge. In two weeks I will share my challenge piece and invite you to share yours in the comments.

Here are the sentences (and you are more than welcome to do more than one if you want!):

1. I was scared. (banned word = SCARED)

2. The boy ate an apple. (banned word = APPLE)

3. It’s a great party. (banned word = PARTY)

And here’s the photo:


(banned word = KITTEN or CAT)

Please share your piece in the comments below!

I picked the kitten picture for my piece. Here it is:

An orange ball of fur curled up among long tendrils of grass. Small and scared, it huddles, making tiny mews. I stroke its soft fur–like stroking a cloud–and pick it up with a gentle touch. His whiskers tickle my cheek. His breath is milky and sweet, reminding me of milkshakes at the little cafe by the lake. Blue eyes blink up at me. He searches my face, “Are you my mummy?”

The next challenge will go up in the first week of February.

What Does ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ Mean?

show dont tell

The writing challenge this month is all about ‘Show, Don’t Tell’, but what does it mean and how can you apply it to your writing?

Showing is all about creating visual imagery for your reader and making them feel as though they are there and connected with your main character. You can tell your reader a character has dark hair and pale skin, but how does your main character view this person? Connect your reader to you character’s mind by showing what they see and feel. Eg: A character who is attracted to these qualities might say, “Dark ebony hair framed her porcelain skin and her red lips were shaped like a cupid’s bow. It was like Snow White had stepped right out of her fairy tale.” A character who doesn’t find those features attractive may describe her in a different light, eg: “Her coal-coloured hair made her bloodless face appear whiter in contrast as though she were one of the undead. The only colour on her face was on her lips, which were caked in red lipstick in the manner of a lady of the night.”

Showing vs. Telling

Here are some more examples of the difference between telling and showing.

Telling: It was a hot day.

Showing: The sun blazed in the sky. Sweat ran down my forehead. The jingle of the ice-cream cart’s bell called to me.

Telling: A tall man.

Showing: The man’s head brushed the top of the door frame as he walked through. I craned my neck to look up at his face.

Further Reading

For a more in-depth look at showing vs. telling and further examples, you can check out these previous posts I have written on the topic.

My Best Advice for Other Aspiring Writers 

This post discusses:

–          Using the five senses.

–          Eliminating ‘was’.

–          Interweaving description into your story.

Show, Don’t Tell 

This post gives a more in-depth explanation of ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ with an example ‘showing’ paragraph like the one I want you to attempt for this month’s challenge.

Keep your eye out for the challenge sharing post at the end of this week. If you’re not subscribed, you can sign up for free (top left-hand side of blog) and you will get an email notification when the post goes live.

Show, Don’t Tell Challenge


This year I’m featuring a monthly writing challenge on the blog. As ‘show, don’t tell’ is one of my writing mantras and is a topic I’ve covered many times on my blog, I thought it only fitting for it to make up my first challenge.

Here’s how the challenge will work:

1. Below I will list three ‘telling’ sentences and a photo.

2. Your challenge is to pick one of the sentences or the photo and write a descriptive paragraph or flash fiction (no more than 300 words).

3. You must not use the ‘banned’ word in your piece.

4. You must use each of the five senses.

5. You have two weeks to complete the challenge. In two weeks I will share my challenge piece and invite you to share yours in the comments.

Here are the sentences (and you are more than welcome to do more than one if you want!):

1. I was scared. (banned word = SCARED)

2. The boy ate an apple. (banned word = APPLE)

3. It’s a great party. (banned word = PARTY)

And here’s the photo:


(banned word = KITTEN or CAT)

This is meant to be for fun and to challenge ourselves as writers. I can’t wait to see what others come up with.

Writing Secrets You Won’t Learn in Class (Guest Post)

Phew! These past two weeks of school holidays have been busy, busy, busy! Now that school holidays (and the plethora of illnesses that have plagued our household) are over, I can hopefully get back to some regular blogging (plus look out tomorrow for a new anthology launch).

I’ve had this guest post lined up for a few weeks and I’m so glad to be back on the blog so I can post it for you. Thanks to Melissa Miller for writing it.

Writing secrets you won’t learn in class

Many creative writing workshops offered in high school and college operate under a certain set of rules and guidelines. These are meant to help a young writer shape their prose or poetry to a fine point so they can produce the best work possible. You know the conventional wisdom offered in many of these courses: write what you know, build a compelling narrative, create a multidimensional character, and use appropriate grammar. If some of these tips seem like common sense to you, you’re not alone.

While many writing classes offer a stellar introduction to creative writing, many more offer run of the mill advice that won’t do much to impact that career of a burgeoning writer. While no one expects any one class to fit all the complexities of writing in their syllabus, there could stand to be a more varied conversation. There are so many things that college writing courses and fiction seminars don’t teach you about the writing process. Allow me to share a few unconventional bits of wisdom that I’ve learned in my experiences as a writer.

Embrace new experiences as future writing material

This bit of advice is instrumental for those writers who have yet to travel. I can tell you from experience that a little sightseeing—whether it’s a weekend trip to a new city or a months-long trek across Europe—will do wonders for your writing. The richness of travel simply lends itself to great storytelling. There’s something about the experience of putting yourself in an entirely unfamiliar setting that just gets your creative juices flowing.

It’s also commonly believed that the more experiences you have to draw from, the more depth that you can then add to characters as you flesh out a story. Think about the range of experience the separates a writer who’s traveled the country from one that has lived in their hometown all their lives: there’s a good chance than one’s writing will be far more varied and diverse than the other’s writing. of course, traveling doesn’t’ make you a good writer, but it can certainly help you develop ideas and expand your worldview.

Don’t be afraid to write poorly

I advise any writer to avoid whatever slows down their writing. in my view, one of the biggest roadblocks to productive writing is the editing process. I’ve met far too many writers who were worried about perfecting the words, grammar, and overall structure of every sentence to the point where it interfered with their actual story. Yes, editing is a critical part of the writing process, but it’s by no means the most important part. You have to have an actual story before you can edit it.

In this vein of thought, I advise writers to continue writing a story, chapter, or section of their work without paying much heed to the overall look of their work. It’s much better to get your thoughts written on paper (or on a Word document) first, no matter how messy that jumble may turn out to be. There’s plenty of time to edit once you’re done with the first draft. Just write!

Sometimes it’s alright to tell rather than show

It’s the hallmark of any advanced creative writing class: show, don’t tell. While that device will certainly make aspects of your narrative more compelling, it’s by no means the only way to tell a great story. That’s right, I’m telling you that sometimes it’s acceptable to tell, not show. The appeal of “showing” in a story is that the author doesn’t spell out salient plot points or character developments for their readers. They drop subtle hints and show the characters and situations for what they are, hoping that the reader will pick up on the nuances.

You might be surprised to learn that a writer can be equally poignant if they tell the reader certain details of a story. Perhaps the narrator tells a reader certain things about a character which interestingly contrasts with the actions they carry out in a story. Or perhaps you simply want to tell some details for the sake of expediency—it’s not a writing sin, no matter what your teacher tells you.

What are some unconventional writing tips that you’ve learned along your writing journey? Let me know!

This guest post is provided by Melissa Miller. Many of Melissa’s other articles aim to help you understand the challenges and benefits involved in earning an online associates degree, and show you a way through the often confusing process. She welcomes questions and suggestions at melissamiller831@gmail.com.

Helpful Writing Sites and Blog Posts – July 2010 Edition

I just realised it’s been two months since I last did one of these, so here is a round up of some helpful writing sites and blog posts I’ve come across in the past two months:

You Have to Believe

Rachelle Gardner (literary agent) has a great blog, with lots of fantastic posts for writers. This particular post was quite an inspiring one encouraging writers to believe in themselves. My favourite line: “God gave you something powerful – a story or a message, and the desire to share it. God is not in the business of tricking people, or of squandering anything – not talent, not passion, not time. Pursue your God-given passions with an unwavering faith. Praise and bless the obstacles. And keep believing.”

Tips for Pitching and Querying Agents

YA writer Ingrid Sundberg shared a hand-out from Andrea Brown agent Mary Kole that she received at an SCBWI agent day on pitching and querying. It includes some great advice, as well as step-by-step questions you should address in your pitch.

Try This Picture Book Editing Checklist

For anyone out there writing or editing a picture book this is a great checklist to refer to, from the editors of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers.

Will Literary Agents Really Read Your Query Letter?

This posts covers reasons why a query letter may not be read, the problems with many queries and some tips on how to write better queries.

The Power of the First Sentence

We all know how important that first sentence is in a manuscript, Brenda Hineman, a freelance writer, guest posts on this blog on what makes an opening sentence memorable.

Eleven Senses – Who Knew?

Anyone who reads my blog knows how much I’m a big fan of ‘show, don’t tell’ in writing, and whenever I talk about showing in writing I refer to using the five senses of taste, touch, sight, sound and smell. This workshop handout covers eleven senses, including pain, balance, sense of time, joint motion and acceleration, temperature differences, and direction. Not only does it describe how each of the senses work, but how they can be applied to writing, some writing exercises and, best of all, a comprehensive list of verbs for each of the senses to spice up your writing.

7 Techniques for a Dynamite Plot

An editor offers some solutions to common problems writers have when constructing their plot.

The Secret to Getting Published

Published author Karen Gowen offers some down-to-earth truths on what is and isn’t the secret to getting published. My favourite line: “You have to want it more than you want anything else. You must want it with every fibre of your being.”

3 Ways to Show, Don’t Tell

There’s my favourite writing mantra again! A short post covering verbs and nouns, sensory details and dialogue.

Query Letter Suicide

Another great post from YA Writer Ingrid Sundberg, this time sharing some advice from Agent Jill Corcoran of the Herman Agency. A comprehensive list of what not to do in a query letter.

Do You Know the Real Reason Not to Use the Passive Voice?

The dreaded ‘passive’ voice. It’s something I’m working on cutting in my novel revisions at the moment. This post by an editor shows an example of the difference between using the passive voice and the active voice when writing.

Advice for New Writers Blogfest

Last week I participated in Peevish Penman’s blogfest on ‘My Best Advice for New Writers’. There were 42 participants altogether. I haven’t quite got through reading all the posts yet, but the ones I have read have offered some fantastic advice. You can find the links to all of them on the Blogfest page, they’re well worth checking out.

My Best Advice for Other Aspiring Writers

I’m writing this post as part of Peevish Penman’s “My Best Advice to New Writers” Blogfest.

My best advice is something I’ve talked about on this blog a couple of times before, but it truly is my writing mantra: “Show, Don’t Tell”.

Some of this advice I’ve covered before, but there are also a few new little gems I’ve recently discovered.

Use All Five Senses

Don’t just tell the reader what the characters are experiencing, have them feel and experience through your character.  Use sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. For example, don’t tell the reader your character is cold, show the reader how your character experiences the cold, “Lucy pulled her coat tightly around her body against the icy wind. The snow crunched under her feet.” Something I like to do when writing is close my eyes and imagine myself in my character’s place, focusing on each of my senses. I’ve even gone as far as putting my hand in a bowl of ice water to describe how my character felt as she plunged into an ice cold stream.

Eliminate ‘Was’

This is something I’ve recently been focusing on in my edits for my novel. Find the places where you’ve used the verb ‘was’ (or ‘is’ if writing in present tense, or ‘am’ if writing first person present tense), then reword the sentence without using ‘was’. This forces you to not only use stronger verbs, but turns a ‘telling’ sentence into one that shows. Take this sentence, “I was tired.” Let’s try to eliminate was and turn it into a ‘showing’ sentence, “My eyes felt heavy, I could barely keep them open.” The sentence conveys the same information, but shows the character is tired, rather than tells.

Interweave Description into the Story

Telling your reader your character is short or the building is old is boring and assumes the reader is not smart enough to figure out things from more subtle descriptions. Interweave details into the story to create a picture that allows the reader to form their own assumptions and at the same time create a stronger story. Take the above examples, the character is short and the building is old. Let’s interweave those details into a few sentences without using those adjectives. “Bill and Peter had to duck low as they passed under the arch, but Jimmy walked under it comfortably, his head barely grazing the top. The boys looked up at the building before them; its brickwork crumbled in places and ivy wound its way up the wall.”

Take Out Your Highlighter

As I proofread my drafts I use a blue highlighter whenever I come across any parts I think are telling, then when I do my edits I rework those parts to show instead of tell.

Just a few other pieces of advice to end this post:

  • Keep writing, every word makes you a better writer.
  • Listen to those who offer critique on your work, your writing can always get better.
  • Always keep a pen and paper handy for when sudden inspiration strikes.

To check out some of the other great advice being offered during Peevish Penman’s blogfest, check out the links on this page: “My Best Advice to New Authors” Blogfest

Writing Effective Description

This week on #scribechat on Twitter (Thursday 9pm ET US/Friday 11am AEST Aus.) the topic was ‘Editing your Manuscript’. One question that came up was regarding description. So today I’m going to address the topic of writing effective description in your novel.

Show, Don’t Tell This is the most important thing to remember when writing description. I’ve written a post about this before (Show, Don’t Tell). What is the difference between showing and telling? Telling is exactly that: telling. You tell the reader that the character is ‘tall with long brown hair and blue eyes’. Sometimes the writer tries to be more subtle about it, the biggest cliche being a character looking in a mirror to describe him/herself, but it is still telling. Showing means interweaving the details in the story. If the character is tall you might write, “His head brushed the top of the doorframe as he entered the room.” In this example you are showing the reader the character is tall, without having to even use the word ‘tall’.

When I am editing I use a blue highlighter to highlight any sections of my manuscript where I am telling instead of showing.

Use All 5 Senses This is related to showing rather than telling. Whenever you describe anything in your novel, don’t just think about the visual elements, try to imagine the smells, tastes, sounds and how things feel. It’s the difference between your reader viewing a photograph of your scene, or becoming immersed within the scene. You want your readers to feel like they are there, experiencing what your characters are experiencing. Instead of just telling the reader there’s a building on fire, describe the sound of the flames crackling, the smell of the smoke and how the smoke burns your character’s throat.

Here’s an exercise: Go sit outside and close your eyes. What sounds can you hear? Are there birds tweeting in the trees, or cars revving their engines? What can you smell? Can you smell the sweet aroma of flowers, or maybe you can smell rain in the air? What can you feel? Is the sun warm on your face, or is the wind sending chills through your body? Now when you write your next scene think about where your character is, what time of year it is, what time of day and what is going on around him/her and incorporate the different senses into the scene.

Move the Plot Forward It’s important to keep your plot in mind no matter what you are describing. Avoid adding excessive details that do not relate to your plot. Is it important that your main character’s best friend has a mole on her chin? Does it matter if someone’s eyes are blue or brown? Character development and world building are both necessary to give your story life, but try not to bog your story down in too much detail or readers will be inclined to skip over the long drawn out descriptions. Cut out what is unnecessary, then build up the parts relating to your plot. Instead of spending a page and a half describing what your character looks like, use that space to delve into who your character really is and what motivates him/her. Instead of telling your reader your character has a scar on her left knee, you might write, “Liz ran a finger over the scar on her knee, remembering how she’d fallen off her motorbike in the Championship race last year and lost the race.” From this we find out Liz likes to ride motorbikes competitively and if the story is related to her racing it might show us how she is out to prove herself. This shows a very different character to one who might have got the scar from a knife fight.

These are the three main points I keep in mind when writing/editing description in my manuscript. Do you have any other important tips you follow for writing effective description? Please share them!

Writing Action Scenes

Just recently in a writing forum where I am a member someone posted an fight scene for critique. Between offering critique on this particular scene and revising several chapters of my own novel involving action scenes in the past week I wanted to share some tips on how to write an effective action scene. Action and sex seem to be the two hardest types of scenes to write, so hopefully these tips will help with the action.

– The first thing you might want to do is to watch a few action movies. If you are intending to write a fight scene, try watching movies with fight scenes using the same kind of fighting techniques as you want to write (for example if you are writing a scene where the characters are boxing you might want to watch Rocky or if you are writing a scene with a sword fight you might watch Gladiator or even Star Wars). As you are watching take note of how the characters move.

– Something else you might like to do to help get your head inside your characters as they fight is to try out the movements yourself. Imagine yourself throwing that punch or swinging that axe. What does your body do?

Use short sharp sentences. Action scenes should be fast-paced and the best way to achieve that is to use short sharp sentences eg: “A hard boot connected with his stomach. He gasped for breath.”

– … but vary sentence length to avoid monotony. If every sentence is the same length it becomes boring for the reader eg: “He lunged forward. The swords clashed. He pulled away.” Compare this to, “He lunged forward. The metal swords clashed together. He pulled away.”

Show, don’t tell! I’ve talked about this before, and it is an important aspect of portraying realistic action scenes. Consider your characters’ five senses as you write the scene. Describe what it feels like when he is hit. Can he smell the blood or taste it in his mouth? Is there sweat in his eyes so it is hard to see his opponent? What sounds do the swords make as they connect? Bring the reader into the scene so they can experience it with the characters, rather than just watching it from the sidelines.

Show how your character feels. Does the sight of blood make your character feel sick? Does your character enjoy the satisfying crunch of a bone snapping? Who your character is will define how they feel about the action taking place. This is a good opportunity to flesh out your character’s personality. How does your character react to life-threatening situations? Does fighting go against every moral fibre in your character’s body or is it just a way of life?

Dont’ forget about your characters’ motivations in the scene too. Are they fighting for their life? Is there some prize at the end? Keep their goal clear in your mind as you write the scene. The higher the stakes the more involved your reader will become in the scene. Make the reader want to root for your character. eg: “Sarah gritted her teeth against the pain. Her sister was depending upon her. She couldn’t give up.”

If you have any other tips you have come across to make an action scene really come alive, I would love for you to leave a comment and share it with us.


I just had to add in a couple of links to some great action writing advice from author A.J. Hartley that I came across today.

Writing Action Scenes

Writing Action II: Battles

Show, Don’t Tell

One of the most important aspects of ‘good’ writing is the author’s ability to show rather than simply tell when writing. What does that mean? It means instead of simply telling the reader what is happening, you need to show them and make them feel as though they are a part of the story. When setting a scene or describing something try not to tell the reader what something ‘is’, instead allow the reader to experience the scene through the use of the five senses. What can you see? What can you hear? How does it feel? How does it smell? How does it taste? By incorporating the five senses when describing something, the reader can become immersed in the scene or story. The reader can put him or herself in the character’s position and relate to what is happening.

In class I sometimes do a writing activity with my students that I picked up from another teacher when I was doing my teaching rounds at university. The activity is called ‘Show, don’t tell’. I write a simple sentence on the board, for example: “It was a hot day.” The students must then rewrite this sentence using the ‘show, don’t tell’ technique and incorporate all five sense to create a more descriptive and engaging version of the sentence on the board. So if I take that simple sentence, “It was a hot day” and use ‘show, don’t tell’, I might end up with something like this:

“I squinted as I stepped out into the blazing sun, its yellow glare almost blinding me. The air carried the scent of burnt eucalyptus leaves. The crickets chirping, hidden from sight, were loud and clear: the quintessential sound of Summer. I had barely been outside for a few minutes, but already I could feel my skin beginning to burn under the sun’s intense gaze. Beads of sweat trickled down my face and onto my lips, filling my mouth with their salty taste…”

You probably wouldn’t go that over the top in your descriptions normally, but you can see how a simple sentence that merely ‘tells’ us that it is a hot day, can be transformed into a much more descriptive piece that shows the reader that the day is hot. You will notice that not once in this description do I use the word ‘hot’, but the reader does not need to be told that it is hot, they can infer this for themselves through the descriptions used.

I know that when I am writing, I can sometimes forget to show and I only tell what is happening, but when I go back to edit I pick out those offending sentences and rework them to ensure they are showing what is happening and not just telling.

I’ve just added a short piece to my short story collection titled ‘Once Like Them’, I think it somewhat exemplifies the way in which the concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ can be incorporated into writing.

I would encourage anyone who wishes to improve their descriptive writing to have a go at the ‘show, don’t tell’ exercise. Just think of a simple sentence, then rewrite it using all five senses.