How to Instantly Transform Your Writing Using Show, Don't Tell

This mini blog originally appeared on and has been relocated here after that site closed down.

Which of these paragraphs do you like better?

The editor wasn't enjoying herself as she read the author's manuscript. The writing was bad and the story was boring.

The editor felt her mind wandering as she read the author's manuscript, her eyes drifting off the page. She checked the page count. "Only 230 more pages to go..." she told herself under her breath.

The second paragraph is more engaging, and it's all because of a technique called show, don't tell.


Show, don't tell is a writing technique in which the reader experiences the story through actions, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings, as opposed to the author's summarization and description. It allows the reader to not only picture the scene more vividly in their mind, but also to infer characters' feelings.

Here's some more examples:

Telling: Jane was sad.

Showing: Jane let out a deep breath and wiped away a single tear as she pushed the door open.

Telling: The weather was hot.

Showing: Waves of heat radiated from the pavement as the summer sun beat down on the city.

Telling: The song made him happy.

Showing: When the next song came on, he had to resist the urge to get up and dance.

The show, don't tell technique is not only crucial to entice your readers, but can also affect how your manuscript is seen by publishers and editors. Publishing professionals know that books full of showing perform better with readers, so they're less likely to consider your book for publication if it's full of telling.

So, you're ready to transform your manuscript into something readers will want to read and publishers will want to publish, but where to start? Most instances of telling can be caught simply by scanning your writing for all appearances of "to be" verbs, which includes "am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been." From there, ask yourself how you can demonstrate the idea being expressed through action or character thoughts. It may not come naturally to you at first if it's not the way you're used to writing, but, like anything, it'll get easier the more time you spend revising.

As you're scanning your writing, you may notice instances where telling actually works– where showing provides more information than the reader needs, and slows down the pace of your work. Telling can actually be very useful in moderation, particularly for mundane but necessary information or transitions between scenes. Use your best judgment while editing, and remember that it doesn't have to be perfect. That's what editors are for!

Our team of world class editors here at Rebel Press are experienced in the use of show, don't tell, and we're here to make your book the best it can be. Schedule a consultation with us today and discover what's possible for your manuscript!

© 2016 by Christi Kerr

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