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  • Writer's pictureLaura L. Zimmerman

Tell don’t Show. Wait, what?

If you’re a writer, you’ve no doubt run across the Show don’t Tell catch-phrase once or twice. (Or maybe a few hundred times!)

These three little words sum up what seems to be an incredibly difficult concept for most writers to grasp. It’s short and sweet, easy to remember. In fact, the idea behind it is pretty fantastic. Spend any amount of time within the writing world – whether it be online, in a group, at a conference – and you will hear it over and over.

Google this phrase and you’ll find a hundred different articles that give you great tips on exactly how to Show don’t Tell. There is absolutely zero reason for me to rehash things said and examples given, probably by people far more talented than I. So what am I going to talk about? Well, the opposite… sort of. 

See, I’m a fairly talkative person. (*cough* understatement *cough*) Mention something within my comfort zone of hot topics and you will literally not be able to get me to shut up. (Think ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Harry Potter’.) And, rightly so, my writing can reflect this same verbal vomit effect I have on all those around me. Sure, this makes for never (ever) falling short on word count, and believe me, there is always plenty of description.

Most of my edits consist of cutting ninety-percent of the physical character movements I add in during dialogue. Let the reader have an imagination, I’ve been told by countless others. You don’t need to tell the reader that the character’s hand moved from her lap to her knee. Let the reader see how they move on their own. 

In other words, TRUST.

Eep. Trust the reader. Let them experience the scene as they would read it, not the way I want to make them see it, a.k.a. Give up control. Ouch. This is a hard one for me because when I write a scene, I see it in a very specific way. And I want to share that very specific way with the reader. But I’ve learned that’s not what’s best for the reader, and that the reader will enjoy my writing more when I can give up that control. Phew!

Soooo, my new mantra is Tell don’t Show. And no, I don’t mean to start telling the emotion of the scene. Definitely not that. I still keep in mind that I need to show what the character is feeling through action. I just don’t need to show every. single. detail. I can certainly illustrate that a character is nervous with sweaty palms and rapid breathing but if he then needs to exit the room, it’s redundant to also mention that he stood up, walked across the room, put his hand on the doorknob, opened the door and walked through it. (Unless it’s pertinent to the story.) Just let the guy be nervous and leave the room. Finis. (That reminder was for me. *wink*) 


There you have it. Most writers focus on the Show don’t Tell, while I focus on the Tell don’t Show. It’s one of those things about my writing that I’ve learned to overcome. (And will continue to work on, everyday! *cheesy smile*)

What about you? Do you have a problem with over-describing? What are your bad habits of writing? Feel free to leave a comment below!

Happy reading, friends!

P.S. Did you know that if you type a Tag that has a contraction, without the apostrophe, WordPress will add that apostrophe for you? No matter how many times you go back and try to change it? Yeah. It does that. So now you know. (And knowing is half the battle.)

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