Writing Advice

Help for Authors and Writers

The Craft of Writing: Showing vs Telling.

Elementary writing advice suggests you should “show” your readers your world, not “tell” your audience about your world. But what does that mean?

Telling, in writing, means you're simply writing text that communicates something directly to the reader. "The nation of Halgata was founded in the seventh year after the Great War of Pumpernickel." You, the writer, are talking directly to the reader, usually for the purpose of communicating something about the characters or the setting.

Telling is easy, but boring. Showing is doing the opposite: letting your characters speak of the world, or the situation, or showing the reader how your characters react to someone or something.

“The monster was scary” is telling. “The monster crept through the night, silent and unstoppable, malevolent eyes gleaming. The moment the hunter glimpsed its long claws and razor fangs, his blood ran cold” is showing. “She was beautiful” is telling. “She moved with such grace through the crowd that hushed silence followed in her wake, as every voice stilled and every head turned to follow her” is showing.

Showing is more interesting than telling. It engages the reader. It brings the reader into the story, allowing the reader to learn things as the characters do, or feel what the characters feel. Here’s an example:


The Great Tower was built on top of the hill of Tereth Amor in the Second Age, two hundred years ago. When it was built, it stood a hundred feet tall. It was constructed of huge blocks of stone fitted together with precision. Now it was a ruin, destroyed in the Last War by dragons before they passed into legend.


The old man and the boy hiked through thick, knee-high patches of tough, scrabbly bush. It wasn’t the easiest path up the hill, not by a long shot, but the old man had a flair for the dramatic—at his age, one of the few vices left to him.

The moment they rounded the huge, gnarled tree near the hill’s peak, the boy gasped. “It’s huge!”

The man smiled. “Aye, that it is. And it was bigger still when they built it. Two hundred years ago, it was the largest thing made by man from here to the Capitol. Now look at it.”

The boy started forward, eyes wide with wonder. The man put his hand on his shoulder. “Careful, laddie. There’s broken stone everywhere, half-buried under the grass. Watch where you set your feet. Your pa’ll have my hide if I bring you back all busted up.”

“Can I go inside?”

“Aye, but not too high. The stairs are all crumbled.”

“What happened?”

“Dragons are what happened.”

The boy scrunched up his face. “My pa says there was never any dragons. He says they were mythall—mythogenical—“

”Mythological,” the man said. “Does he now? Well, let me tell you something about grownups.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “Grownups don’t always know what they’re talking about.”

“But dragons?”

“Look.” The man knelt. He dug in the dirt with his hands, pulling aside clumps of tough plains grass until he found what he was looking for. He handed his find to the boy. “What do you see?”

“It’s a rock.”

“Oh, but not just any rock. Look.” He pointed to the edge, smooth and flat. “This rock was worked by human hands. The whole tower was built of great blocks of it. See here?” He poked at the stone with a thick, working man’s finger. “What do you see?”

The boy squinted. “It’s all blobby.”

“Right you are, laddie. That’s dragon’s fire. Hot enough to melt stone.”