Showing vs. telling. Write with the five senses.


Show, don't tell. How to write with the five senses. Article by Kelly Hartigan of XterraWeb.

Use the five senses to show, not tell. What does your character see, hear, taste, smell, and touch?

Show what your character experiences through the five senses. Use strong verbs. The sense verbs (see, hear, taste, smell, and touch) can be considered weak “telling” verbs. The key to showing your character’s sensory experiences is to eliminate the sense verbs.

Writing with the senses engages a reader’s emotions. If you remove the sense verbs, you form a closer connection with readers. A reader will experience what is happening to your character as though the reader is personally experiencing it.

Telling Example
Abigail could hear the sound of thunder in the distance. Abigail felt the branches hit her arms hard and make them bleed as she ran through the forest toward the clearing. She could see the glow from the fire in the clearing ahead and knew she would be safe there. She smelled the stench emanating from the massive creature behind her. She turned to look behind her when she heard the sound of the creature’s breathing. A flash of lightning lit up the sky and the creature was close enough that she saw its sharp teeth.

Showing Example
Thunder rumbled in the distance. As Abigail ran through the forest, the branches slapped her arms and tore her skin. The glow of a fire illuminated the clearing ahead of Abigail, signaling safety. The putrid aroma from the massive creature behind her enveloped her in a thick fog. The creature’s rasping breath echoed in her ears. Lightning crackled and illuminated the sky. Abigail risked a glance behind her. The creature’s needle-like teeth gleamed like well-sharpened knives.

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[…] Showing vs. telling. Write with the five senses. Use your character's senses to show, not tell, experiences. Examples of telling vs. showing.  […]

Your example really helps to one to understand the difference. I would not have thought that the words are used would make much of a difference. I know that you are supposed to write as if the event is happening right now, but I didn’t really understand how that would work until now.

I’ve shared this with my daughter who is a high school junior. She said it’s very helpful. Thank you!

Great advice. I try to do this in most of my writing and I guess its working because the one compliment I hear all the time is that they FEEL like they are there with me.

Great example! I would definitely prefer to read the showing example versus the telling example. It allows me to more clearly imagine the scene.

interesting article! there’s a big difference from showing and telling! this is very helpful

I have always loved the showing method because it lets the reader imagine the situation in their own capacity. It particularly is amazing for children as helps their imagination & thoughts grow. Love this article.

I hadn’t considered the different types of writing before which is hilarious since I write for a living! Thank-you for enlightening me, I am looking forward to trying both ways and see what works best.