Show vs. Tell: Character State

Onto the ever-controversial “show not tell”. I can think of a few situations this writer’s “rule” would come in handy. The first one is character state. ‘State’ being emotion, physical properties, and personality.

Quick and simple examples for this below.


Show “Jared clenched his fists, his whole face went red as he glared at Lauren.”

Tell “Jared was mad at Lauren.”

Show “Tim grinned at the audience, taking a bow before he headed backstage.”

Tell “Tim was happy with his performance.”


Show “Elaine towered over me, I had to tilt my head back to meet her gaze.”

Tell “Elaine was taller than me.”

Show “Marge held out a frail hand, her bones showing through the papery skin.”

Tell “Marge was thin and bony.”

These are the bare basics of show vs tell in showing character state.

This concept stops writers from relying on templates, or stereotypes, that flatten and dull their characters. “An old man hobbled into the store.” is distant. We don’t know this character, and we begin to assume one of several pre-determined personalities. That’s boring. I’ve heard plenty about Template A and B, that’s why I’m assuming it in the first place. I want a character that’s real and interesting, not pre-cooked mush.

Joe is tall. Well, who cares? How is this important? Does Joe tower over his wife, dwarfing her physically even though she wears the pants in the relationship? Showing means writers will be able to describe and move the plot at the same time. Instead of stopping to say Fred is mad, have him slam a door while he leaves a bar. Plot movement and description all in one, no boring descriptions to drudge through.

Now, I’ve pondered showing and telling enough to melt my brain. That’s good enough for today.

Next Show vs Tell will be about Setting.