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  • Lihui

Anyone can "show not tell", even YOU!

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Show, don’t tell. Do you and your child understand what it means to show, and what it means to tell?

We start by understanding what showing and telling means respectively. Then, we review tools that will help to demonstrate the “show” in creative writing. Finally, we will apply the skills learnt with some scenarios. Feel free to take notes!

In literary writing, showing is otherwise known as dramatization and telling is otherwise known as exposition. Telling, or exposition is used to explain background information about your character, or to set the context of the scenario. The aim of showing, or dramatization, is to help the reader (the PSLE marker) see the scene playing out in their mind.

Keep the 3D’s in mind. For Dramatization, use Details and Description.

Did you imagine a girl inching away from a spider? As seen from above, Lily’s fear of spiders is shown via a Detailed Description of her physical reactions. Not only does showing allow your reader to visualize, but it also helps your reader feel the emotions (fear) necessary. The 3D’s can be used for many forms of emotions. We’ll practice together later!


This is a literary device where writers give animals or inanimate objects a human quality. It is one of the easiest tools in creative writing to add unique details.

Did you feel the calmness from this sentence? Logically, we know that trees do not sway, nor do leaves dance. These are actions that people are capable of. But, it is precisely the insertion of human vocabulary into creative writing that achieves personification, which then enables the writing to appeal to the reader. The reader is able to relate to emotions or actions described in the scenario. They can better understand the ideas to be conveyed and feel the emotions.

So.. we should avoid ‘telling’ as much as possible?

Fortunately, that is not always the case. Telling is important to quickly introduce characters and backgrounds. Without the clear details expressed via ‘telling’, the reader may even end up being confused by an attempt of ‘showing’. These general guidelines can be followed for when to use exposition.

1. Introduction, after hook

First impression matters. The first sentence that appears to the reader is known as the hook. Like a fishing hook, it aims to capture all the attention and interest from the reader. A ‘telling’ sentence is less able to demonstrate that effect than a ‘showing’ sentence, hence, consider using the 3D’s for a dramatic opening. Thereafter, during story building, ‘tell’ the reader more about the characters of the story. Keep in mind the 5W1H – who, what, when, what, why and how. These details will help the reader understand the personality of the characters, allowing the reader to understand the flow of the story.

2. Resolution

Concluding paragraphs should include a learning point or some reflection with regards to the climax of the story. At this juncture, clarity in expression triumphs over bombastic flair and vocabulary. Although having both is ideal, most students struggle with completing their writing on time. Hence, students are recommended to stick to either. Be clear and specific in the events that resulted in the corresponding learning outcome.

Let’s practice!

Here are some prompts to use to practice personification or the 3Ds! We’d love to see your creative take on how to show, not tell!

Creative writing is a component that stumps many students, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. In the words of the famous novel writer, Ernest Hemingway, “Do not worry. You have written before and you will write now.” Happy writing!

(This article was written in the personal opinion of the author, Chen Lihui, an experienced primary school English tutor.)

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