Show don’t tell is a popular writing technique used by storytellers allowing the readers to experience the story, and their characters rather than just reading the writers’ descriptions and the exposition of the story.
The technique follows describing the sensory details of characters and the actions or the situation occurring in the story encouraging readers to involve their own minds and senses in deciphering and imagining the story and their characters.
This helps writers to connect the readers with their story, and the characters and builds an emotional attachment into the reader’s heart evoking emotions through this technique of storytelling.
This writing style is attributed to a popular Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, who quoted:
Don’t tell me the moon is shining, Show me the glint of the light on the broken glassAnton Chekhov
Note: When using show don’t tell writing style, as far as possible, try to avoid the use of any emotion explaining words like happy, angry, sad, frustrated, and also all basic sensory words like heard, felt, terrified, etc.
The only flaw of using the show don’t tell writing technique is that it sometimes increases the length of the story and can make it unnecessarily long, so writers are advised to use it not so often and only where the story needs exaggeration of the situation, feelings, emotions or to set a tone of the story, setting or the situation.
You can use our ”Feeling Words List” when writing short fiction under word limits and to avoid unnecessary long sentences to express a character’s mood, feelings, and emotions.
Understand Show don’t tell with these simple examples.
Tell: The temperature was hot last summer.
Show: The sun was melting last summer.
Emotions should not be said, they should be shown.
Learn with the below examples to make your own show don’t tell sentences, or show, not tell phrases and understand the technique of showing emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, excitement, fear, etc. in the story with your writing instead of directly telling it to your readers.
Show Don’t Tell Phrases Examples (for Happy)
He was jumping up and down with joy.
His smile broadened from ear to ear.
She was on cloud nine when he proposed to her.
He was over the moon when she asked his name.
The sun was kissing her rosy red cheeks in the bright daylight.
Her eyes sparkled with excitement.
Jennifer was swimming in the sea of the heavens.
Sunshine flooded her soul.
John started breathing quickly when she looked at him.
Peter was walking on air after passing the exam.
Lily was on seventh heaven when she found out that she was pregnant.
Adam was in high spirits.
Everyone’s heart pounded with happiness and their soul started dancing.
Songs of the heavens were buzzing in his ears.
His eyes were wide open when he suddenly saw her in a new dress.
Show Don’t Tell Phrases Examples (for Angry)
He clenched his fist, raised his voice and suddenly slammed his hands on the table.
His cheeks turned red and eyebrows got narrowed.
His soul was burning.
She growled at him through clenched teeth.
He started huffing and puffing and slammed the door.
The flames of the hell were nurturing the monster inside him.
His veins were popping out from his skin.
His bright red face was telling every thing.
Show Don’t Tell Phrases Examples (for Sad)
The tears streamed down her face.
Her eyes welled up with tears.
The whole world suddenly disappeared for her.
The weight of the grief was crushing her soul.
A drop of tear fell down her cheek.
Her soul was drowning into the river of her grief.
She was sinking into the deep sea of her tears.
She was crying a river.
Her lips trembled as tears slowly rolled down her cheeks.
She sunk to the ground.
Her eyes were red and puffy.
Show Don’t Tell Phrases Examples (for Scared)
Her blood ran cold.
The chill haze of her suspicion began to crystallize.
Fear pumped dark wine through her veins and sharpened all her senses.
His scream pierced the air.
His racing heart and his shivering body were telling the whole story.
She felt a rising tide of fear from her head to toe.
She screeched in terror with a pounding heart.
She started breathing heavily after feeling the spine-twisting terror.
Her heart was frozen with fear.
She was unable to run away as fear had paralyzed her legs.
A chill ran down my spine.
She screamed at the top of her lungs.
Her face was purple and savage, her eyes bloodshot.
A chill of unease run down his spine.
Yet Confused about How to Use Show, Don’t Tell?
Then watch this informative video by Diane Callahan explaining the use of show not tell in the best way possible.
For more show don’t tell ideas for happiness do read How to describe happiness in writing by Bryn Donovan
Also, read our ”Feeling Words List” (Words to Express a Character Feelings and Emotions).