Show and Tell Cheat Sheet

From Writer’s Digest

July – August 2018 Issue


Creating characters can be a pleasure or the bane of writers everywhere. Below is a terrific aid from Writers Digest. While we’re talking about characters. do you keep a file of names? I’ve gotten names from:

  • license plates
  • street signs
  • newspapers
  • product names
  • misspellings at the keyboard – Ufudi, is from a tangle of typing. He’s an Egyptian in my historical novel.
  • from words that pop into my mind
  • anywhere is fare game
  • be sure to carry some paper and a pen.


A character’s emotional
Show Don’t tell readers a character was ashamed or joyful;
show them reactions
A characters Attitude Show Rather than explain a character is uptight or
judgmental, show them acting that way or reveal it
through lines of dialogue.
A character’s special
skills of abilities
Show Don’t tell readers what a great fighter the character is; render a fight scene in which something meaningful is at stake.
Status (dominance /
Show Instead of telling readers which character is in charge of
who has the highest status, reveal it through stillness,
self-control, confidence and self-assurance.
Tension and suspense Show The more you claim that something is suspenseful of
tense, the less it will be. Instead, build tension through
engendering reader empathy and concern for characters
in peril.
Desire (a character’s
goal or intention within
a scene)
or Tell
If you show, do so quickly and clearly. Otherwise, just
have the character state what she’s trying to accomplish.
A progression of events
that doesn’t change the
character’s attitude,
status or situation.
Tell If nothing tilts the core scenes of your book. Play them
out. Show your characters facing struggles, taking
action, meeting setbacks and recalibrating before
moving forward again toward their ursuit.
Stakes Tell Tell readers what will happen if the characters are
unsuccessful. Be as specific as possible, calling attention
to deadlines when appropriate.
A character’s
Tell readers the details of a character’s hair and clothing,
but keep it relevant; the details you include should
demonstrate to readers something about the character’s
culture, class or individual style.
Decisions Show
or Tell
Often, it’s best to just tell readers what your characters
have decided to do; however, context might provide you
unobtrusive ways to show them.