Show, don't tell

Show, don't tell

How to write better stories

Anyone who has studied writing has heard the concept of “show, don’t tell.” This is one of the hardest yet most important aspects of creative writing. “Show, don’t tell” means that rather than telling your audience how your characters feel, or what a place is like, you show them with specific descriptions.

For example, don’t say that the beach was beautiful. Say that the sun glimmered off the waves as they crashed into powdery white sand. Then, the reader comes to the conclusion that the place was beautiful.

Don’t say that a character was angry. Say that he came home and kicked his dog. If someone kicks a dog, how do they feel? Angry.

If you want to convey that two characters are in love, it is unnecessary to simply state it in the narration. In fact that makes for less interesting writing. There are countless ways to convey how two people feel about each other: how they look at each other, the words they choose, or a specific change in their behavior when they are together.

For better examples, read anything by Hemingway, especially “Hills Like White Elephants” from the collection Men Without Women. It’s a short story, a conversation between a man and a woman at a train station in Spain. It is never stated that they are discussing her pregnancy and whether or not she will have an abortion. You learn about it indirectly through what they say to each other and how they say it.

Hemingway had his “iceberg theory;” what is written on the page is only the tip of the iceberg of all that is happening in the story. This is the same idea behind “show, don’t tell” – that, rather than narration, action and dialog will point you in the direction of what the story is all about.