Thursday, January 3, 2013

Show, don't tell: an example

When I came across this passage in A.S. King's Ask the Passengers, I marked it as a perfect example of the old saying Show, don't tell.

"My mother wears expensive high heels all day while she works, even though she works at home. She wears full business attire, too, and makeup and earrings and has her hair perfectly styled, even though nobody ever sees her."

Just by showing us this, the narrator reveals much about her mother. She doesn't tell us, "My mother is formal. My mother cares about appearances. My mother likes to feel that she has things under control." She describes her observations without interpretation. She shows us her mother, and lets us begin to draw our own conclusions.

Like any other writing advice, Show, don't tell is not an absolute to be followed at all times. But it's oft-repeated, and with good reason. And I think this passage is an example of how it can be done well, and why it usually works.


  1. What an excellent example! Let the reader draw their own conclusions, eh?

    1. Yes. I like reading that way myself, getting to make up my own mind about the characters.