Show, Don’t Tell


There is no right or wrong way when it comes to writing. But as my teachers at UCO have told me, you need to learn the rules so you know how to break them.

One of the things I’ve been trying to comprehend and work on in my own writing this week is ”show, don’t tell.” This is a rule that is a basic skill taught in writing classes. For some reason I’ve been having trouble with this concept. So I’ve paid special attention to it this week and this is what I’ve discovered.

When you are writing about a character, it is critical to keep in mind that you are not necessarily describing what is happening to the character from a narration perspective. That often lends itself to telling. You need to get into a mindset where you are inside the character’s head and describing things from their perspective. This is showing.

Once I saw storytelling from this perspective, “Show, don’t tell,” finally made sense to me. Here is how I came this is conclusion.

This is the one criticism I got from my instructor after reading my first chapter in class that really stuck with me. I had struggled with this concept last semester as well. So I went back to my books from last semester’s “creative writing” and “writing the short story” classes and reread the material on this subject. I understood the material, but something was missing that I just couldn’t get a handle on.

Not finding any new answers there, I paid attention to the novels I was reading and noticed something interesting. The authors were showing, not telling. If there was any telling it was from the character’s perspective and was cast in the light of being something the character was thinking of, like sharing ones thoughts.

Making this observation, it still didn’t really click until I discussed my findings with my teacher in class this week. That is when the epiphany struck.

I’m not sure I still totally understand showing, but I’m getting there. I now have a better understanding of how to write my novel with showing and not telling. I just need to get inside my character’s head and write it from their perspective. Showing and not telling will take care of itself if I keep this in mind.

Of course this is only one aspect of showing. If you are storytelling from a third person perspective, that can be a little tricky, but doable. My teacher suggested I read Kurt Vonnegut Jr. for an example of showing using this perspective.

I really value my creative writing classes at UCO. If you ever need a group to critique what you are working on, I highly recommend taking one of these classes. Any of the CSDY 4910 classes will provide some critiquing. I’m thinking of continuing to take these classes even after I graduate just for this reason.

I’m working on my next chapter to read in my critique class after spring break. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  1. #1 by live4life201 on March 18, 2012 - 8:32 pm

    I’ve never taken a class on writing & probably never will, & it probably shows in my work, but i dont care. I feel if my written imagination is understandable to me, then it works. As for getting into the mind of my characters that comes from looking into the right parts of my mind, looking into the past to find those people that make up the created person. Art is tainted when laws are imposed on it.

    • #2 by ltreadway on March 20, 2012 - 4:43 pm

      I agree that voice is an important artistic aspect of all writing. However, I truly believe that I wouldn’t find as much pleasure in the novels I read if the author didn’t use showing instead of telling. My teachers agree with you, but only to a point. Showing is much better than telling, more appealing. If you do tell it should be for a specific purpose. You learn the rules so you know when it is best to break them.

      Thanks for your input. I do try to take my classes with a grain of salt and keep in mind my own writing style. But I also think these rules are helping me to grow and get better in my writing, which is my job as a professional writer.

      • #3 by live4life201 on March 20, 2012 - 11:17 pm

        That’s great to each his own. I’m A.D.D school DOEST work to well for me so I have to rely on inspiring moments in my imagenation.

  2. #4 by Taylor on March 28, 2012 - 9:46 pm

    You could post some of your stories on here and we could give you some critique on what we think you should fix and what not. Not that your writing is bad, just one could always use a little help when writing a story. You may not think of something a certain way as I would think. That is what I have learned in my creative writing class. So if you feel brave, share them.

    • #5 by ltreadway on March 29, 2012 - 4:25 am

      I thought about that, but my chapters are, I think, too long to post them. I thought about maybe putting them somewhere online where I could just link to them, but then you hit it on the head, courage. I’m not sure I have enough at this point in my development. Thanks for your offer though. I will continue to consider it. Thanks. 🙂

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