Show vs. tell: Do you know the difference?
On November 19, 2013 | 5 Comments | News & Events, Writing tips |

“Show vs. tell” is a cardinal rule of writing, yet most first-time authors don’t quite understand what it is. After years of trying to explain this concept, I believe I’ve finally come up with the perfect analogy: online dating!

Let your readers draw their own conclusions about your characters

Imagine this scenario, even if you’re not on the market: You sign up for an online dating site, excited to (maybe) meet the person of your dreams – for this post, let’s say that’s a man. As you flip through profile after profile, you stumble across these two:

Profile A: “I’m an attractive, witty, adventurous man with a great sense of humor.”

Hmmm…who says he’s attractive? I’ll be the judge of that when I see his photo. And why exactly is he witty? He hasn’t said one witty thing. Adventurous? Why is he adventurous? Great sense of humor? Say what? Honey, I’m not laughing.

Profile A guy is telling me too much and showing me nothing. As a result I don’t want to meet him, because unfortunately he sounds sort of full of himself.

Profile B“For the record, if we hit it off, I’m totally willing to lie about how we met. Just throwing that out there. And speaking of throwing things out there, I recently jumped out of a plane for the first time. Holy frick.”

Through his words, Profile B guy is showing me that he’s witty, adventurous, and has a great sense of humor. And by showing me a photo, he’s letting me decide whether or not he’s attractive.

See the difference? That’s what you want to do with your writing. Show the reader, don’t tell the reader. Readers are smart and want to draw their own conclusions about your characters. A little telling is okay, but you don’t want to overdo it.


This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2013 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

Comments 5
Denise Hisey Posted December 12, 2013 at11:46 am   Reply

Great visual, Maria!

Maria Murnane Posted December 12, 2013 at6:47 pm   Reply

haha 🙂

[…] Several posts back I explained the concept of showing vs. telling by using the example of an online dating profile to demonstrate the difference. Today, I’d like to delve into a key reason why it’s important to show and not tell your readers. […]

Use beats to show, not tell « Maria Murnane Posted August 19, 2014 at11:58 am   Reply

[…] you aren’t familiar with show vs. tell, it’s a fundamental rule of good writing. (See my post using the analogy of online dating to learn why it’s so […]

[…] Plus the use of beats shows us how the characters are feeling without telling us. (See my post on show vs. tell if you’re not familiar with the […]

Leave a reply

  • More news