Showing vs. Telling

What's the Difference?

Showing and telling are two different techniques used in writing to convey information to the reader. Showing involves using descriptive language and sensory details to paint a vivid picture in the reader's mind. It allows the reader to experience the story through their senses and emotions, making the writing more engaging and immersive. On the other hand, telling is a more straightforward approach where the writer simply states the information without much elaboration. While telling can be useful for conveying information quickly, it often lacks the depth and impact that showing provides. Overall, showing is considered a more effective technique as it allows the reader to connect with the story on a deeper level.


EngagementInvokes reader's imaginationRelies on author's description
EmotionElicits emotions through sensory detailsStates emotions directly
DescriptivenessUses vivid imagery and specific detailsProvides general information
CharacterizationReveals character traits through actions and dialogueTells readers about character traits
ImmediacyCreates a sense of being present in the sceneProvides a summary or distant perspective
SubtletyAllows readers to infer meaningExplicitly states information

Further Detail


When it comes to storytelling, writers have two primary methods at their disposal: showing and telling. These techniques play a crucial role in engaging readers and conveying information effectively. While both approaches have their merits, they differ significantly in terms of impact, immersion, and reader experience. In this article, we will explore the attributes of showing and telling, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.

Showing: Painting Vivid Pictures

Showing is a technique that allows writers to create a visual experience for readers by using descriptive language, sensory details, and action. By showing, writers enable readers to immerse themselves in the story, engaging their senses and emotions. This technique often involves using dialogue, vivid descriptions, and action sequences to bring the narrative to life.

One of the primary advantages of showing is its ability to evoke emotions and create a lasting impact on readers. By painting vivid pictures with words, writers can make readers feel as if they are experiencing the events firsthand. For example, instead of telling the reader that a character is sad, showing would involve describing the character's tear-streaked face, slumped shoulders, and trembling voice, allowing the reader to empathize with the character's emotions.

Furthermore, showing can enhance the reader's understanding of the story's setting, characters, and relationships. By providing specific details and allowing readers to observe the characters' actions and interactions, writers can build a more immersive and believable world. This technique enables readers to form their own opinions and interpretations, fostering a deeper connection with the narrative.

However, showing can sometimes be time-consuming and may slow down the pace of the story. While it is essential to provide rich descriptions, excessive showing can lead to information overload and distract readers from the main plot. Striking a balance between showing and telling is crucial to maintain a steady narrative flow.

Telling: Conveying Information Efficiently

Telling, on the other hand, involves conveying information directly to the reader without relying on extensive descriptions or sensory details. This technique is often used to summarize events, provide background information, or deliver straightforward statements. Telling allows writers to efficiently communicate information, saving time and maintaining a brisk narrative pace.

One of the primary advantages of telling is its ability to convey information concisely. By summarizing events or providing background information, writers can avoid unnecessary details and keep the story focused. For example, instead of showing every minute detail of a character's morning routine, telling would involve a simple statement like, "She woke up early and prepared breakfast."

Telling can also be effective in situations where showing may not be necessary or appropriate. For instance, when conveying historical facts, scientific explanations, or complex concepts, telling can provide clarity and ensure that readers understand the information without getting lost in excessive details. In these cases, telling can be a valuable tool for maintaining the reader's interest and comprehension.

However, relying too heavily on telling can lead to a lack of engagement and emotional connection with the story. Without the immersive experience provided by showing, readers may feel detached from the characters and events. Telling can also limit the reader's ability to form their own interpretations and may result in a more passive reading experience.

Choosing the Right Approach

While both showing and telling have their strengths and weaknesses, the key to effective storytelling lies in choosing the right approach for each situation. Writers must consider the desired impact, pacing, and emotional connection they want to create in their narrative.

When aiming to create a vivid and immersive experience, showing is often the preferred technique. By engaging the reader's senses and emotions, showing can make the story come alive and leave a lasting impression. This approach is particularly effective in scenes of high tension, emotional turmoil, or when introducing important characters or settings.

On the other hand, telling can be a valuable tool for conveying information efficiently and maintaining a brisk narrative pace. When summarizing events, providing background information, or explaining complex concepts, telling can save time and prevent the story from becoming bogged down in unnecessary details. This approach is especially useful in situations where the focus is on delivering information rather than creating an immersive experience.

Ultimately, the most effective storytelling often combines elements of both showing and telling. By striking a balance between the two techniques, writers can create a dynamic narrative that engages readers, conveys information effectively, and evokes emotions. The key is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and use them strategically to enhance the overall storytelling experience.


Showing and telling are two fundamental techniques in storytelling, each with its own unique attributes. While showing allows writers to paint vivid pictures, evoke emotions, and immerse readers in the narrative, telling enables efficient information conveyance and maintains a brisk pace. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches, writers can choose the most appropriate technique for each situation, creating a compelling and engaging story that resonates with readers.

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