How to make your writing show rather than tell

You don’t have to write for very long before hearing the cry of “Show don’t tell!” or “Too much exposition!” The advice is given for good reason. Exposition (or telling) typically fails to be either evocative or engaging.

So how do you fix exposition? How do you make your writing show rather than tell?

Begin by identifying when you’re telling rather than showing. A simple guideline is that telling states a fact. In fiction, however, this fact prevents the reader from deducting what the actual fact is. Because of this, telling limits the reader’s participation in the story. Consider this example of telling:

We pulled into the parking lot of The Pink Pony. I was more than a little nervous.

“I was a little more than nervous” is a perfect example of telling rather than showing. It states a direct face – the narrator is nervous – rather than allow the reader to deduct that she is nervous.

To resolve this, you want to evoke a mental image that allows the reader to conclude the narrator is nervous. You might instead write:

We pulled into the parking lot of The Pink Pony. My hand was shaking as I grabbed the door handle.

“My hand was shaking as I grabbed the door handle” doesn’t directly state that the narrator is nervous, but the reader easily can deduce this.

Revising to show rather than tell often marks the steepest part of the climb for writers scaling their draft. Sometimes no obvious evocative mental image quickly comes to mind. Still, the struggle to show rather than tell is worth the mental sweat. A grateful reader is waiting on the other side.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.