Charlie Laidlaw is an author and tutor at Creating Writers

A novel is a work of dramatic art, just like a play, film or TV drama.  To convey mood or tension, a film has dialogue, gesture and music.

But a novel has to conjure mood and tension from words alone.  It’s in how you use those words that you balance the “show” and the “tell.”

Despite the often-used phrase “show, don’t tell” both are important in any book. It’s important that the narrator of your book, whether in the first or third person, is in charge of the story.

He or she (or a hidden someone) has to “tell” us what we need to know – where the story is set, who are the characters, why we should care.

“Telling” is therefore important because it gives us information and context.  But “telling” alone doesn’t give us the emotional weight that characters need if we are to care about them, or how the story unfolds.  It needs the “show” as well.

For example:

Show: “James narrowed his eyes.”

Tell: “James was very angry.”


Tell: “James turned the corner and saw the sea ahead of him.”

Show: “James turned the corner and there, ahead of him, was the sea that he remembered so well.”

“Tell” gives readers the concise information they need to move the story forward.

“Show” allows the reader to be swept along by the story, without being told every detail.  Showing is about creating pictures in readers’ minds.  Convincing them that your fictional story, or fictional place, is actually real.  Or that your character has thoughts that you, the reader, should know about.


My advice is to decide in advance what you want to achieve with a particular passage.  Are you trying simply to get from A to B?  Or are you trying to fill in a gap of plot or character?

If you need help getting started on your writing journey, Creating Writers has two online creative writing courses, an introductory course and our flagship Diploma course.

It’s an intensive course, with lots of face-to-face tuition.  It also comes with a real qualification at the end of it.

That could not only kick-start your writing career but provide you with a valuable qualification for your resume.

Our courses are intended to give you the confidence and skills to understand what makes great writing.  On the Diploma course, we’ll also get you started on your novel.

For more information, you can contact us here.

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash