Home > Writing > On writing: show … don’t tell

On writing: show … don’t tell

September 25, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell. That’s the mantra, right? Well, I read the following quote today:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
– Anton Chekhov

Not sure why, but this quote really struck me. Perhaps it’s because the same old advice you hear, and often forget, is immediately followed with a wonderful example of how words can create images. If I can remember this quote every time I sit down to write, beautiful pictures just might spring forth from my fingertips.


  1. September 26, 2013 at 5:18 am

    I’ve been beta reading for a friend who published the first draft of her novel, and really doesn’t have much writing experience at all. So when she got 1 and 2 star reviews, she sought out some beta readers for help.

    It’s given me a view into the world of ‘show vs. tell’ in a very real way. The more I write, the more I’m able to distinguish, ‘oh, instead of saying ‘he looks confused’ I can show the expression on his face’. I think giving the readers the clues, and trusting them enough to understand what’s going on, is part of the mystery and synergy of writing.

    It all comes down to show vs. tell!

    • September 26, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      Exactly. Early drafts, or manuscripts written by inexperienced writers, really highlights this specific issue for those of us doing the reading. It seems like such a simple concept, but it’s so easy for it to get lost as we dive headlong into writing our stories. For me, I know that during my first draft I’m likely to do more telling than showing, except for those occasional gems that flow from the fingers. It’s in the later drafts, as I’m reading through line by line, that I’m able to come up with ways to show and not tell. Of course, that’s assuming I’m doing a good job of reminding myself that I need to do that 🙂

      You’re a good friend to take the time to beta read and provide feedback. I hope to get a beta reader or two at some point, and hope to return the favor.

      Thanks for commenting, Katie!

  2. September 26, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Love that quote, David! It seems as though following those words of advice would be simple, and we should really try to do so. Thanks for sharing.

    • September 26, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      Yeah, I thought it was great, too. Like I mentioned, it just leapt out at me as something so simple yet profound. I loved how it was worded. Now I just need to repeat it to myself over and over and over again 🙂

  3. September 26, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Writing is so much more fun when you show. If it’s tedious to write something, imagine how the reader feels!

    • September 26, 2013 at 10:26 pm

      Exactly. I’ve had times where I’m writing and it feels like I’m pulling teeth. Talk about tedious … oftentimes, those are moments where I’m not showing anything but I’m telling, and struggling to do so at that. Again, I just need to remember to repeat the mantra.

  4. September 26, 2013 at 9:37 am

    But does the moon really reflect off broken glass? 😉

    It’s a great quote and one to bear in mind often. Thanks for the reminder!

    • September 26, 2013 at 10:29 pm


      Hmm … well, perhaps I need to go get some broken glass and head outside on a clear night with a full moon high up in the sky. I’ll report back on what I find 🙂

  5. kirbyp
    September 27, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Beautiful quote. If you’ve got the time and inspiration at some point, I’d love to read some other good examples of show don’t tell.

  6. October 3, 2013 at 4:58 am

    Hi Dave- so nice to see you engaged and involved with your writing and blogging- it gives me hope every time I see your post. I loved this quote- what a powerful way to “show” the concept!
    my best to you-

    • October 7, 2013 at 9:14 pm

      Thanks, Sue. Glad you stopped by and left a comment. Been wondering what you’ve been up to and how you’re doing. As you can see, I’m just trying to keep going with blog and get as much writing done as I can 🙂

      • October 8, 2013 at 2:01 pm

        I’m so glad you’ve been writing! And you’re doing such a great job!
        keep going…

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