Show, Don’t Tell

When I read a post on someone else’s blog that explains a concept in a way that makes me think I wish I’d said that, I just have to share it here. This article by Oliver Gray is a wonderful exposition of literary devices you can use to help you bring your imagery to life. I hope you’ll visit Oliver’s blog at Literature and Libation to read the entire article.

Literary devices you can use to help you bring your imagery to life. #writetip #amwriting Share on X

Imagery innervates your writing, takes it beyond yawing generalities and into the visceral, blood-soaked details. It is how, using your words and syntax and imagination, you create the world of your story in your reader’s mind. It engages all of the senses: vibrant, blinding colors; pungent, wafting smells; coarse, sandy textures; plunking, rolling sounds; sweet, buttery tastes.

The piece of advice I’m sure you’ve heard even more times than “Cliche? Run away!” is “Show, don’t tell.” It’s another easy one to regurgitate into the awaiting mouths of nutrient-starved writers, but it is often misunderstood.

The idea is that you need to show an emotion or character trait or some other important facet without just telling your reader explictly what that thing is. It’s the difference between, “Carol fidgeted, her eyes darting towards the door ever few minutes” and “Carol was nervous.”

What makes the first one showing and the second one telling? Images. Imagery. Figurative language. Pictures drawn with words and forcefully placed into the reader’s brain through his eyeballs.

It’s that simple. Showing comes down to using effective imagery in your writing. There are no other magic methods or secret spells or ridiculous riddles. If you’re getting a lot of feedback saying, “show, don’t tell!” with no other qualifications, re-interpret that as, “I couldn’t really picture this correctly, and it gave me pause.

When you start replacing abstracts and generalizations with concrete images that your reader can easily turn into a video of the action in their head, the problem of showing verses telling suddenly, as if by some divine writing miracle, disappears.”

This is just an excerpt from Oliver’s longer article, and it’s packed with great information so I hope you’ll visit and read more here.

Happy Writing!