Show, Don’t Tell

written by Ken Preston | Creativity

January 29, 2024

Show, don’t tell.

That piece of advice is almost a cliche now, it is trotted out so often.

But maybe that’s because it is valuable advice.

Readers want to ‘see’ the action, not have every minute detail of it explained to them. They are reading a story, not a police report.

A way of doing this is by getting into your character’s head and noticing what they notice.

For example, in the opening to my short story The Job, I conjure up a seedy diner on 42nd Street, New York, where an unusual job interview takes place:

The job interview took place in a diner on 42nd Street. The place was squashed between a strip club, and a two-screen cinema showing The Texas Chain Saw Massacre on one screen, and a Linda Lovelace double bill on the second.

Susan sat at a greasy, Formica-covered table while the man assaulted her with interview questions. In between every question, he winked at her.

‘Are you a team player?’


‘What’s your biggest strength?’


‘Do you read The New York Times?’

Notice I haven’t said that the diner is seedy, or that the interview is an unusual one. Nor have I described the diner other than its location and the fact that its tables are greasy. I haven’t even described the interviewer. Instead, I have taken snapshots of what Susan may well remember about that interview. The movies showing at the cinema, the strip club, the greasy tabletop, the unusual questions and the winks.

Show, don’t tell.

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