Show, don't tell

We’ve all heard it. Describe your character’s expressions and feelings to convey emotion, don’t outright say them. Personally, I find myself keeping in the flow of my writing when I simply say “So-and-so was angry” instead of “So-and-so’s palms grew sweaty as they clenched their fist”. It’s become a bit of an issue for me to avoid writer’s block when I’m constantly stopping to think about how exactly I can accurately describe the current emotion in a way that can be clear and vivid to a reader, without simply outright saying it as in the latter example. Has anybody else had this issue and found a way to overcome it? Perhaps a good template on describing emotions that you use that I can refer to on the internet? And happy Thanksgiving everybody!

Show don’t tell is a suggestion not a rule. It depends on what you are writing such as genre vs literary fiction. Genre usually has more show don’t tell. If it is messing you up, chuck it and write how you want.


Hmm. That’s a good question. Personally, I think you’d get the best advice if you tell us what voice you’re writing in! First person? Third person close? Third person omniscient?

I think it also depends on the situation your character is in. If it’s a fast paced situation, I flat out write the emotion and tell. If it’s more somber or I want to relate the scene more with the reader through thick emotion, I lengthen and show it. I think it’s all about the situation! =)


There’s no reason you have to show in your first draft. I don’t. My first draft is fairly spare.

In my second draft (which I do the next day), I revisit everything I wrote the day before and build it out.


Show don’t tell isn’t a hardcore rule, just for the crowd.

“He seemed angry” might be terrible to some, but maybe the narrator is saying it because they aren’t quite sure if the person is angry because they have issues with reading emotions.

If you’re going for speed square brackets it in your writing and come back to it. You know it’s wrong, but you’re going to fix it.

I also try to usually spread it out more as I’ve gotten more seasoned as a writer. I use other tools to convey the emotion, like mentioning long silences, or scattering it out or building to it or using tone. You know you’ve mastered tone when you can oppose the character’s feelings yet get the reader to feel something different from the characters’ emotions.

So it’s not suddenly there and I don’t have to describe it. And if the reader knows it, then I don’t have to really show much of it to tip them over the edge. It’s ingrained in what is communicated already.


Show AND tell is a more accurate rule, and one that can be focused on more in the second draft if it’s slowing you down.

The first draft I write with passion and avoid overthinking. I don’t worry about detail too much in this draft. I concentrate on the story and just enjoy writing it.


This is something I decided to work on improving with this book. These thesauruses have a more in-depth version available on kindle. I have pretty much all of them.


Careful with Thesaurus diving… it can go terribly wrong.

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I think you need to trust your story more.

If I understand correctly, you want to tell the reader that a character is angry. But because of this rule, you try instead to do it by other means, and this gets contrived quite quickly. There are only so many sweaty palms and clenched fists you can write before it gets tired.

Instead, maybe it’s worth asking if the reader already knows? If your story telling is good, maybe it’s already apparent. The things your characters say and do should be driven by their internal motivations and moods. So you shouldn’t need to add any details to tell the reader what their mood is. Their behavior should already show the reader that.

Does this make sense? :slight_smile:


It’s not a real thesaurus. It’s just a list of different reactions linked to different emotions.

It makes it easier to show an emotion rather than hand it over outright.


This stuff is great!

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That’s super helpful! Seriously thank you. Do you have any other resources?

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I’ve been using this resource for years. There’s a book to help you with certain settings, physical traits, occupations, weather, character motivations, etc.

I’ve probably got six of these books on my ipad. The website I linked is a more condensed version.

Let’s just say description has been a weakness of mine for years. I really started working on it with my current book, using these books as a guide, and it was recommended by one of my readers in the threads to someone who was looking to improve this aspect of their writing as well. It ended up being another one of my readers who wanted to improve on this after reading my book!

They really are an incredible resource.


There’s a collection of those books, focusing on different things.

I have a bunch of different books on my kindle that help with different areas of description.

This is the collection from the site.

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A story will have a balance of show and tell. More showing than telling, but no story can go completely without telling. It depends on what you’re trying to do at the current set in time. If you try to show everything, you can lose the readers to confusion. If you try and tell everything, you can lose the readers due to boredom, so finding that balance is necessary.

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It depends on the scene as it varies upon how fast or slow paced it is. It’s a balancing act based on what you want both your readers and characters to experience which is why the pacing is a major factor in the decision. When you have a fast paced scene where your character can’t experience every single detail that happens, you’re going to tell a lot more than show. When you have a slower paced scene where your character experiences the details around them, you’re going to show more than tell. At the end of the day, you should be telling about 30-40% of the time and showing about 60-70% of the time.

Now, on a first draft, you don’t have to show or get anything right. When you revise, you can add it in and expand what you need. But as long as you write down something to get you into the next scene, that’s all that matters. :wink:

Personally, I do a mixture of both as it just depends on how I am with it. I’ll show in some scenes rather than others because, for me, I was on a “roll.” xD


I miss you!

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I miss you, too! :sob: I’m hoping to get back into reading sometime within the next few weeks once things start dying down… I really, really miss reading Ada’s and Tom’s story!