Show-Don’t-Tell Practice

This post was originally published January 9, 2010. I’m sharing some back posts this week as I’m off on a research expedition in sunny Florida!
As I crank through the rewrite of my current WIP, I’m finding an awfully lot of “telling” that I need to replace with some better writing. In the spirit of show-don’t-tell, I attempted to come up with five ways to show that it’s cold without saying “it’s cold.”

1. Let the character experience the cold: Gooseflesh prickles up my bare arms as soon as I push off the covers.

2. Let her observe the cold: Ice filmed the inside of the cabin windows. I started shivering even before my feet touched the frozen floorboards.

3. Let her think about the cold: I didn’t expect the day’s chill, not in June. If I’d bothered to check the weather, I might have brought along a sweatshirt or jacket. Instead, I’m here in shorts and a tank top, resisting the urge to curl into a ball or warmth.

4. Let her worry about the cold: As the sun drops beyond the mountains, shadows lengthen, bringing with them the sharp-edged chill of the coming night. It pierces through my thin sweater and I wonder how long it will take before I turn into a human icicle. I have to find the cabin. Quickly.

5. Let her discuss the cold: Brrr!” I tuck my hands into the sleeves of my rain slicker, drawing deeper into the sheltering overhang. “My fingers won’t bend, they’re so frozen.”

Not masterful prose, perhaps, but the exercise helped to get my brain moving in the right direction.

Do you have a technique you’re trying to master? A bit of concentrated practice can help you learn incorporate a new technique smoothly into your writing, the way a batter might practice hitting a hundred balls before the actual game. Pretty soon, the technique becomes second nature. Give it a try!

:-) Cheryl

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You’ve probably read the same tips I have: Have a smart phone? Check Facebook while standing in line at the post office! Respond to Twitter messages while waiting for your dentist! Catch up on your news feed while sitting on the pot! For years, I thought the path to increased productivity was to squeeze in MORE–more […]


  1. says

    These examples are helpful. And I love the idea of practicing a specific technique to help improve my writing.

    • Cheryl Reif says

      I know! I think it’s like doing scales on a musical instrument–by practicing them, the musician becomes more adept at playing “real” music. As writers, we can do the same sort thing, practicing writing skills so they flow naturally when it’s time to use them :)

  2. Cheryl Reif says

    Hop on over to The Author Chronicles for a great round-up of craft posts!


  1. […] As always, there’s a lot of craft advice out there. Some is evergreen, like Molly Greene’s timeless tips that helped change her writing for the better; Lynnette Labelle’s tips on how to write tight; these truly ancient 8 rhetorical devices to make your prose mouth-watering; and Cheryl Reif’s helpful examples of how to Show rather than Tell. […]