A few years ago, I was a judge
involved in the PM Moon Publishers first
annual writing contest. It was a great experience
and I thoroughly enjoyed participating. Over a
period of several months, I was asked to read
numerous entries, all childrens stories of
one sort or another, as PM Moon Publishers
specializes in childrens and Young Adult
fiction. There were some great stories amongst
the entries that really stood out. They were
different styles, genres and aimed at different
age groups but they all had one thing in common.
The authors knew how to show, dont
The first entry I read I had trouble putting
down. I wanted to keep reading into the night and
early hours of the morning. I couldnt, of
course, because a person needs to sleep.
Nevertheless, I wanted to stay up until Id
finished the story. And when I did finish, a day
or two later, I wanted to read the next
installment. The entry was the first in a series,
and I was ready for more. I needed more. My
reactions were good signs and clearly the other
judges had similar reactions because this entry
went on to win the Grand Prize.
A few entries later, I sat in my lounge room
reading a Young Adult story. Again, I wanted to
read until Id finished the story. I
didnt want to stop and, Im not too
proud to admit, this entry made me cry. It was an
emotional journey I thoroughly enjoyed. The other
judges must have had similar experiences because
this entry won First Prize.
The entries that won Second Prize and Honorable
Mention were also favorites of mine. In fact, the
judges didnt have much trouble agreeing on
the top four entries. Our easy agreement was
further proof that show, dont
tell is the key to winning contests and the
hearts of readers.
If you want more proof, the entries I and
the other judges - enjoyed the least also had one
thing in common. They were all
telling and, too often, from the
point of view of an adult narrator. Um, these are
childrens stories. Why is an adult telling
Of course, Im a big fan of show,
dont tell. I run a master-class on
show, dont tell and I also
wrote an e-book on show, dont
tell. Still, I was pleased to have my
thoughts validated by the contest. The winning
entries were all shown from the main
characters point of view. The entries none
of us considered as winners were all
told and, too often, from the point
of view of an adult narrator.
Why is showing from the main
characters point of view so important? Why
are the best stories shown and not
The answers to these questions are easy if you
look at my reactions to the winning entries in PM
Moon Publishers first annual writing
When a writer shows a story from the
main characters point of view, the story
can be hard to put down. Readers experience the
story, as if they are the main character, as if
the story is happening to them. We see, hear,
think and feel everything the main character
does. Everything is shown to us so we
can see, hear, think and feel everything.
The scenes in a book are like those in a movie,
except we use the writers words to create
the scenes in our minds through our imaginations.
Therefore, our imaginations are engaged.
Were asked to participate because
were not told things,
were shown them and we have to
use our imaginations to work out what is going
on. Showing asks us to participate by
using our imaginations and coming to our own
conclusions about the writers words.
Were not being told by the
writer. Were being shown what
is going on and we have to interpret the meaning
Doesnt this sound like real life? In real
life, we see and hear scenes, and we have to
interpret them ourselves. Most of us dont
have a narrator who tells us what is
going on in our day to day lives.
When we interpret information ourselves, we bring
our own experiences and personalities to a story.
We add to the story and make it our own. We
personalize it. We know how wed feel in
similar situations and we bring these thoughts
and feelings to the story. Through this
participation, were drawn or pulled into
The most important thing that showing
does is to make us care. Why do we care? Because
were involved, were participating.
When were involved and participating, then
it matters to us. It makes a difference.
Telling, on the other hand, does not
engage the imagination. Were told something
a statement of fact a foregone
conclusion. We cannot see, hear, feel or think
about the words. We cannot add to them. The
writer has told us something. The
writer has made the decision for us. There is no
interpretation. No argument. No participation for
readers. Were kept outside the story, at a
distance. And we have no choice but to accept
what the writer says as gospel. But do we?
No. We like to make up our own minds. We like
proof that we can understand. Why should we
simply believe the writer?
Lets look at an example: He was
scared. Sorry, but this means nothing to
me. So what? Who cares? I dont feel
anything. The word scared
doesnt make me scared. I cant see,
hear, think or feel anything. Im not
involved or participating. I cant bring my
own experiences and personality to these three
words. I cant relate. Besides, how do I
know he was scared? What proof do I have? Am I
supposed to just accept this?
Now, if I show this scene: His heart raced,
pounding against his chest, too loud when he was
trying not to make a sound. It was important that
he didnt make a sound. The killer might
hear him! He had to get away, he decided. But
how? He looked around. God, he was hot, his skin
clammy. If the killer didnt kill him, his
own body might, he realized. He had to calm down.
His instincts told him to take a few deep
breaths. But the killer might hear him, he
The above scene was off the top of my head, so
please forgive me if its not my best
writing. The point is that this
showing scene involves readers. It
gives readers a chance to interpret the words, to
come to their own conclusions and, most
importantly, to put themselves in the main
characters shoes. We can imagine how
wed feel in this situation. We can imagine
what wed do. We can experience the fear
without being there, without being in danger. We
can live vicariously through the character
and we do. We also believe in this fictional
world. We have reasons to believe in the main
characters fear. We have proof! His
physical and emotional reactions are proof.
Theres no doubt that wed feel
similarly if in his position.
But he was scared doesnt cut
it. We cant imagine it. For one thing,
there isnt enough information for us to
engage our imaginations. Scared
doesnt mean much to us. But the emotions,
thoughts and physical reactions of fear do.
Weve all experienced them at one time or
As a writer, one of your main purposes if
not the main one is to elicit emotions in
your readers. If you dont, how can you
expect your readers to care? Why should they keep
reading your story or book? To elicit emotions,
you need to engage your readers
imaginations and therefore, their emotions. Just
saying he was scared is not enough,
not by a long shot.
So when you write, show your readers
the emotions, the thoughts and the physical
reactions. Let your readers experience them, too.
Think about why we read for escapism. And
let your readers escape into your stories.
Show, dont tell.
Learn the principles of show, dont
tell and you, too, can win contests and the
hearts of your readers.