Don’t Blow it, Show it.

Pencil/Hand (Show, Don't TellYou’ve probably heard the saying “Show, don’t tell”. What does it mean?  It is important to say that there are some parts in every story that are told (and not shown). There is simple description in the best of novels. However, much of the story should be shown, especially the crucial parts. Your reader should experience the story as if they were one of the characters. What would they see, sense and feel? Focus on helping the reader experience the story rather than telling them what is happening.

A similar approach can be used in the beginning of an article. A reader has to realize quickly why the information is important to them, before they will finish reading, remember what they read, and apply the material. Rather than use many more words to explain this concept, let me put it into practice with an illustration.

Instead of telling:

Show Don't Tell /  MicShe walked into the kitchen. Julie’s head was throbbing. Today everything looked different. It was Tuesday morning. She would hear back today from the doctor. Her mind was filled with many different thoughts, Julie did not realize it because she was lost in those thoughts, but she was shaking. Even though she had on a thick robe and slippers, she still felt cold. She was not hungry but her throat was very dry and she wanted a drink, Orange juice sounded palatable. Julie sipped her drink trying to hold the glass steady. She paced and nervously waited for the phone to ring with her physician’s results. 9:15. 9:30. Julie was expecting it, but the ring startled her, scattering her thoughts for the moment. She froze. The answering machine clicked. This could be it.


Show, Don't Tell / x-rayHer throat was cotton. Jumbled thoughts made her head pound. Light barely showed through the kitchen blinds, and already Tuesday seemed daunting. One thought escaped. “What news will today bring?” Julie stretched to the top shelf to reach for a juice glass, but her hands shook, and it slipped. The falling glass struck the counter and gashed two knuckles on her left hand. She stared at the blood. Then the daze departed and Julie cleansed the cut under the sink. Grabbing a towel she wrapped it while rushing to the bathroom. “Maybe it looks worse than it is.” Slowly she knelt, and pulled out the bottom cabinet drawer grasping for Band-Aids. Julie plopped down on the tile floor, emotionally overwhelmed. Tears flowed. The phone rang. She stiffened. Four rings and the answering machine beeped. Julie’s heart raced. She recognized the voice. “Hello? Mrs. Grafton, this is Dr. Anton’s office…”

It is not about more (or less) words, but about the sense of being there. The first paragraph is 133 words. The second one is 150. Which one seemed longer? Which one leaves you caring about what happened?

I hope that helps. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for a future topic, please leave a message.

As Always, write on.

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2 comments on “Don’t Blow it, Show it.
  1. Emily says:

    awesome post, but very cruel…what did the Dr. say??????????? 🙂

    • The doctor said your results are in. Just kidding… knowing my liking for happy endings it probably would have been good news (eventually). I loved your comment. I laughed, and said, “Yes!” because your comment “showed” exactly what I wanted to illustrate. There was emotional involvement in the second one. Glad you enjoyed it.

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"A writer looks at a screen or piece of paper like a canvas. They see a country unexplored, a picture unpainted, a tale not told. They dare to venture into the barren land, explore its dark corners, and paint its pictures. Then they unveil the epic with the goal of compelling people to visit their newly discovered territory.”
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