Show, Don’t tell: A sample

Often as writers, we hear “show, don’t tell.” This simply means that instead of stating someone is hungry, scared, nervous, excited or angry that we should get that message across by how our character acts or reacts to the situation.

Now for some, this may be a daunting challenge. How do I show this, you might wonder. Sometimes it might help to imagine yourself in the situation. Or perhaps you can think of a scene from a movie.

If someone is hungry, they might lick their lips as they stare at a pie, or they may place their hand over their rumbling belly.

When you are scared, your heart pounds. You jump at strange noises in the darkened house as you tightly grip your flashlight.

Hopefully, you get the idea. I wrote the following short scene as a demonstration of “show, don’t tell” based on a shore excursion my family took this week. (I am on vacation now so this scene was actually written BEFORE we went on the Twister Boat.)

The Twister Boat

Her hand gripped the edge of the seat. Her heart pounded as the speed boat raced across the water. The driver turned sharply. Her stomach tightened as the boat spun. A wave of sea water crashed over the squealing passengers.

“Uno mas, Hector!” someone yelled.

Others joined in, calling for Hector, the driver, to do it one more time.

Hector, a tall thin man with an easy smile, laughed as he set the boat racing again. Stella steeled herself for the upcoming maneuver. The brochure had promised the daring excitement of a high-speed boat with moves guaranteed to soak you. And it hadn’t lied. But Stella longed for the white sandy beaches and margarita that the brochure assured her was at the end of this wild ride.

As the boat spun again and the other riders called out for another spin, Stella sighed. Obviously, Hector would continue to indulge the others. He set the boat speeding across the water. This time she relaxed her grip on the seat slightly. Tipping her head back, she closed her eyes as the boat twisted in the water. A warm wave of salty water drenched her. She laughed.

“Uno mas, Hector,” she cried out.


Instead of telling you that Stella is nervous – perhaps even scared – by the maneuvers of the Twister Boat, you learn about it by her actions. Her heart pounds. She grips the seat. And then in the end, she tries giving into the fun by not clutching the seat as tightly. She tilts back her head and closes her eyes to enjoy the motion of the boat. And we know she likes it because she laughs and calls out for ‘one more time.’

So keep the writing adage of “Show, Don’t Tell” in front of you as you write, and let your readers feel and experience what your character’s feel, rather than telling them.



2 thoughts on “Show, Don’t tell: A sample

  1. Kate Aaron says:

    Good post, although perhaps it could be followed by one about immediacy? There’s no need to say “her hand” gripped the boat when “she gripped the boat” carries the same meaning without her becoming formed from disembodied limbs 🙂

  2. Klaus Schilling says:

    I detestand boycott all fiction following the “show, don’t tell” injunction. Consequently, I will not be deterred from telling shamelessly instead of showing by any of your propaganda.

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