From Idea to Paper: Telling vs. Showing

*Ding* A light brightens above your head. An idea forms, and you’re madly trying to write it down before it dwindles and fades and you forget you even had this magical concept. But HOW do you show what you see in your head? HOW can you articulate those scenes and characters if they’re all in your imagination?

In this post, I aim to help you bring your awesome idea to life!

So let’s get started, shall we?


We’ve established that you already have this crazy cool idea you’re excited about … but maybe you’re not sure about writing it down. The best place to start is one of two ways:

  1. Jump right into it. If you clearly see how the story begins, go for it. In this situation, it’s best to run with the idea and watch as it takes shape under your fingertips. You can outline once you realize the direction the story’s going and continue from there.

  2. Outline first, write later. If you’re a planner and know EXACTLY what you want to happen, then outline the plot. Outline the characters. Outline the setting. Make sure you have all of the details mapped out and then dive into writing.

I suggest these options when you’re beginning a story because writers tend to drift toward one of these two methods. For me, I jump into writing a story and then outline everything as it comes together. Not every author outlines their work, but it does help to stay on track and keep details on-point. You want every little thing to have a purpose without it being convoluted.


How do we make sure people see what we want them to see?

We show them. We don’t tell them. Now, if you’re only beginning your writing journey, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Readers want to be involved in the story. They want to feel, smell, and touch what your MC does. They want to lose themselves in your created world and feel a part of it. They don’t want to be told what they’re seeing. They want to experience it.

How do we do that?

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Many writers struggle with the “showing, not telling” critique - especially me! So how do we overcome this battle?

We don’t tell the readers what we see. We write as though we are living it ourselves. We put ourselves in the dirt (not literally); describing how it feels against our skin, smelling the mulch, the rot. We write about it as if we are there. Now, let’s differentiate between “telling” and “showing” with an example:


“Wait!” The man begs. Those tear-filled eyes beg me not to pull the trigger.


“Wait!” The man begs, his watery red eyes flick towards the gun in my hand.

Both examples offer the same information, but in different ways. Instead of telling the reader that his eyes are “tear-filled", I describe what tear-filled eyes look like. I’m putting the MC (and myself) right into the moment so the reader sees what I do.

Hopefully this helps you! If you’re still uncertain, or have more questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll get to them as soon as I can.

Look For Your Next Read

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By Christine Rees, Kacie Ji, Roxas James, Peri Elizabeth Scott, M. Wiklund, Sasha Hibbs, Lisa Borne Graves, Kate Larkindale