Show them, don’t tell them

March 1 by

Show them, don’t tell them

We hear this in every writing class, and we read this in every writing book: “Show, don’t tell.”

In fiction, that means breaking out of lazy adjective and adverb habits, and instead getting your characters to feel alive through what they’re actively doing and how they do it, not through unrealistic, contrived explanations that fall flat. You wouldn’t want to say , “Bob grew frustrated and angrily chided his dog for wetting on the carpet.”

Instead, you’d write something more like, “Bob stomped off toward the paper towels, muttering, ‘Lucky thing I like you, Rover…'”

It can feel difficult to apply when we’re blogging, but the concept is the same.

So, here’s the simple breakdown for “show them, don’t tell them” when it comes to blog posts.

Take into consideration each of the major senses of whatever situation you’re writing about.

  • Smell
  • Sight
  • Touch
  • Hearing
  • Taste

Now, all of these aren’t going to apply every time.  If you’re taking pictures, taste probably isn’t going to come into play (unless, of course, you’re taking pictures of food, and writing about the food!)

For instance:

I took a picture of a pretty, blonde-haired little girl playing with a wind-wheel.  It was windy and she wore a pink dress.  I thought she was cute, so I snapped the picture.

Well, that tells me what was done, and what the picture was of, but it doesn’t tell me why the picture was taken.  How did it feel outside?  What was so visually captivating that the photographer couldn’t resist snapping the picture?  What sounds were around?

I sat outside a loud café watching people go by.  The weather had turned sunny, but a fairly stiff breeze blew ruffling my napkin.  I anchored it with my camera, and then heard giggling and a strange clackity, clackity, clackity sound.  I looked around and spotted a little girl wearing a bright pink dress.  Her blonde curls lifted with the breeze as she waved a wind-wheel.  I grabbed my camera and caught this picture.

Now, that paints a picture for me.  It shows me the details.

Show us how one of your major senses is involved, and you can transport us.

Show us one scent, one sight, and you can capture the rest of our senses and carry us back to a vivid childhood memory, or an event that was traumatic, or the day we met a significant person in our lives.

The smell of cotton candy made me think about going to the fair when I was 16.  I was dating the first love of my life, and it was a very happy time for me.  We walked around the midway.


I caught the sweet scent of cotton candy as I was walking through the park.  Instantly, the sounds of children laughing and brightly colored balloons morphed into a late ’70s midway.  It transported me back to my 16-year-old self, in love for the first time, walking around the colorfully lit midway with my boyfriend’s arm draped around my neck.  The rush of happiness and giddiness of first love flooded me.

Try your own.  Post them in the comments and we’ll help you along.

(Image credit.)

Cathy Lynn

About Cathy Lynn

Cathy Lynn is an artist, writer, executive trainer, and the co-owner of Inkwell Basics. She has published two coloring books, Conscious Coloring and Carnal Coloring. She's currently working on a novel, and turning her farm into an event venue. She previously blogged at 3 Shared Paths, a personal growth blog that was read worldwide, and has been blogging for over 10 years. She lives somewhere between the city and the country with her three cats, Sebastian, Miss Kitty, and Ella.

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