C.S. Lewis quotes on show don’t tell in writing

Don’t say ‘delightful’, make us say ‘delightful’ after we read it

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Photo by Marina Vitale on Unsplash

C.S. Lewis said:

Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”

The phrase “show don’t tell” confuses people in writing because all writing is telling… isn’t it?

But this is exactly what writers are talking about when they use that phrase.

This is also why, when critiquing your work, writers might tell you to remove adjectives and adverbs, or why you might hear that those two types of words are “bad writing.” You are of course allowed to use adjectives or adverbs.

It is much preferable for your reader to be terrified, than to be told something is terrifying.

Whenever you tell your reader what the characters in a story are experiencing, instead of letting your reader have an experience alongside your characters, you miss an opportunity to invite your reader into the story. If you miss too many, eventually your reader will stop waiting for their invitation and simply leave.


Found a screenshot of the post above on Pinterest. I hate screenshots of text. So I did some googling and found the original quote, and the original post, and put them here so Google can find them easier.

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Code, design, cook. Make stuff. Cookies. @BYU grad.

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