Posted on Oct 20, 2014 by   3 Comments | Posted in Blog · Uncategorized

by Shannon Donnelly Shannon Donnelly

I’m teaching my Show and Tell: An Interactive Workshop this November for FF&P, and it always seems to start with confusion over what’s showing and what’s telling. The confusion is understandable—both showing and telling the reader requires description. But there are some easy tips to help you understand these two techniques.


-Showing means convening the character in action and words. He felt angry is a phrase to tell the reader the character’s emotion. A description of how that character actually feels the anger and expresses it is showing.

-Showing takes more words because the goal is to create a picture and feeling in the reader’s mind with only words.

-Showing requires good visualization by the writer. You have to know your characters. Different people express emotion differently. Some of us bottle it up. Some express every emotion too easily. If you can’t put yourself into your character’s skin, showing can be difficult.

-Telling means conveying exact meaning to the reader; it is, literally, telling the story. This can be useful, too, but it won’t get your character onto the page.

-Telling compresses word count, which is very useful in short stories and for a synopsis.

-Telling alerts the reader that the information, or the character, is relatively unimportant.

-Telling can smooth transition in time, distance, or viewpoint. A lyrical description that tells the reader a lot can really help you set up a scene or a mood.

-To know if you’re telling vs. showing, look for “clue” words that tip off you may be telling more than showing, such as was, were, are, to be (as in, The sun was hot). These weaker verbs often show up for telling.

Why do you want to show more?

A character’s actions always speak louder to the reader than any thoughts or narrative about that character—actions reveal true character. So what you have your character do is very important. A character who expresses anger by kicking a kitten is not going to find much sympathy with readers.

This means that to better get your character onto the page you want to give your characters mannerisms—both physical and verbal habits—that reveal their inner person. Does your character have a lucky coin they rub? Does she turn a ring when she’s uncertain? Does he hesitate verbally with words such as uhm?

Above all, showing is the continual search for how to reveal what your character feels and how that character displays (or doesn’t display) those feelings.

But showing and telling do not have to be absolutes—you can mix them. And for more about that, you’ll have to check out the workshop.

Shannon Donnelly Bio

Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA’s Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.” She is also the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning TireContact Shannon Donnelly at




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3 Responses to "SHOW AND TELL TIPS"

  1. Comment by PJ Sharon
    October 21, 2014 8:06 am

    Great tips and well explained, Shannon. It’s tricky to find the balance but once you get a feel for it, the different uses for showing and telling become more obvious and natural. During my editing phase, I go through and focus at least one pass on just this topic, catching the “too much telling” by doing a search and find of to be verbs, was and were. It’s a good exercise and once you do that a few times, you start catching yourself before you use those words by asking, how can I show this instead? Thanks for the tips!

    • Comment by Shannon Donnelly
      October 29, 2014 1:26 pm

      PJ – The multiple edits is a great way to really tighten up a book! Glad you liked the tips, too.

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