Writing tip #6 Show. Don’t tell

Richard ArthurWriting


This is the latest article from Neil on writing. If you want to create compelling, unputdownable writing. And feel fulfilled by the process, read on below:

Have ever noticed how painstaking it can be to get through a single page of a textbook or scientific study?

But you can fly through entire chapters of a novel without thinking twice about it?

The difference in the density of language used, and the flow of it, does play some part.

But for the most part, it’s about how the writing engages the senses.

Addictive writing doesn’t just summarize events, list major takeaways, or rattle off ideas…


It pulls you in by the nervous system, by eliciting imagery and tactile sensation.

This tip is not original, but something most great writers live by, so that’s why I’m including it as a bonus.

Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, the advice I tend to give most often is…


Bonus Tip #2: Show, Don’t Tell.

If a character is awkward, or prone to anger, or falling in love…

If a landscape is beautiful or a city is filthy…

Don’t just tell me that.

Show me by painting it with words.

I want to see a character in a typical scene, and come to the understanding on my own that they are angry, rather than just being told they’re angry.

I want to see how hard that period of life was for you by living it with you, rather than just being told that time was difficult.

When you let the reader draw their own conclusions, rather than telling them what to think, you are giving them the gift of losing themselves in the world, characters, and ideas you’ve created.

After all, what is empathy but allowing someone to walk in your shoes?

It is a shortcut, almost a sign of writerly laziness, to just tell someone how you felt or how they should feel.

The power of writing, or film-making, painting, or any artistic medium is that it elicits a feeling in the audience that can’t be recreated through ordinary conversation.

To accomplish this requires taking your time, really getting inside your experience of an event or your evolution of an idea, and reliving it. Not summarizing it.

Great storytellers paint a picture. On its own, each line seems to convey nothing special. It’s just the stroke of a pen. Yet when they are all those lines put together, a complete picture emerges. One that can make you gasp with awe, choke up with tears, or smile with joy.

This is why some writers go to the extent of telling others to avoid using adjectives and adverbs whenever possible. Or why some screenwriters discourage voiceover in a film.

Show, don’t tell.

Feel, don’t explain.

Immerse, don’t summarize.

Relive it, don’t avoid it.

You get the point.

For a previous tip, click here: https://www.neilstrauss.com/writing/tk/