Showing Not Telling

So lately, I’ve been trying to write a novel.

I know, that sounds kind of pretentious. I actually don’t like it when people are like “Oh yeah, I’m a writer.” It makes them sound really cocky. I think true writers shouldn’t brag about their work or talk about current projects in a way to brag. If its really good, the writing should speak for itself, right?

Lately as school and other things have been catching up to me, I constantly found myself pushing back my desire to write fiction. I kept telling myself I would do it “when I had the time”. But after finding out that one of my old middle school friends recently published a book this year, it kind of gave me the initial push to really take my writing seriously and make it a primary commitment instead of wishful thinking.

So a couple days ago, I started planning out my book, figuring out my characters, and I wrote a couple pages. But something I noticed as I was writing is that I write too simply. It’s hard for me to show and not tell. I guess it’s because I write the way I talk. I like telling stories, so when I write, I shape my sentences and my words as if I’m telling a story to someone.

I actually never noticed it before until my roommate inadvertently critiqued my work (she was saying it as a compliment). I gave her one of my short stories to read as a way to gauge how interesting my stories were. I sat in anxiety and excitement as she carefully read the story over. It was funny because it felt like a really long time, when she was only reading a couple pages. I guess that’s what happens when you’re really nervous about something.

After she was finished reading, she said “I really liked it! It feels like someone is directly telling me this story.” Now although she meant it as a compliment, I immediately felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I remembered the famous words “show, don’t tell”.

All my life, people have always told me that phrase. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to have as a skill set, and yet it is difficult for me to do. I find myself instinctively writing stories as if I’m talking to someone. It makes me sort of envious of people whenever I read their work and the words really paint a picture.

So by attempting to write this book, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to learn how to really “show” something instead of telling it. A lot of writers give the advice “write everyday”, and I think that even if I don’t know how to do it now, if I write everyday, I’ll hopefully improve.

But does anyone have any substantial tips or advice on how to “show instead of tell”? What kind of strategies or word choices do you use to really get a reader to imagine or visualize your story?¬†Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

My hope is that the more I do it, the better I’ll get. Writing isn’t something you get better at just by daydreaming about it.


One thought to “Showing Not Telling”

  1. Rachel,

    Your post quickly caught my eye as one I wanted to read. I love your big goals and that you are finding motivation to finish your book amongst the chaos that is college. I have a similar goal so it makes me happy to read about another MIW and her book ideas. I wasn’t completely sure what it meant to show and not tell somebody a story though. I would love to hear more on what you feel the difference is and what you believe you can do to your writing to make it into more of a “showing” piece rather than a text version of a story you would speak to someone. I wish you the best of luck with your book and I hope to see it on shelves someday.

    Keep it up,


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