• Alyssa Rogan

Show Don't Tell: A Glossary

When you're new to writing, you'll eventually hear the adage, "show, don't tell." You may understand how it's helpful--the readers get to experience the story instead of being told every single thing--but you don't exactly know how to execute it. It might go over your head altogether (I know it did for me when I first started writing). If that's the case, I want to show you my glossary of showing instead of telling to give you an idea of how to execute this writing technique.



  • gritted teeth

  • clenched jaw

  • hands in fists

  • raised voice


  • withdrawal

  • poor posture

  • frowning

  • soft-spoken

  • downcast eyes


  • waving hands around

  • jumping up and down

  • yelling/whooping

  • excessive smiling

  • restlessness or boundless energy


  • frowning

  • sweating

  • leg bobbing up and down

  • wringing hands

  • dry throat or mouth

  • pale face

  • they touch their face a lot, especially if they're lying

  • avoiding eye contact/darting eyes

  • fidgeting (playing with hair, fixing clothes)

  • body oriented in a way that suggests they want to leave the room

  • if the person is outgoing, maybe they talk too much or laugh a lot

  • if the person is quiet, maybe they retreat


  • glowering/glaring with narrowed eyes

  • embittered words

  • depending on the character, they may either retreat in despair or show off to prove their superiority over the person they're jealous of

  • *see anger*

Personality traits


  • describe the cleanliness of the house; everything has a place i.e., the bed is always made, dishes never in the sink, etc.

  • show the character cleaning their house, workplace, purse, etc.

  • maybe they have a specific process, like color coordination, alphabetization, labeled compartments for everything

Shallow or superficial

  • they're always talking but not really saying anything; they always keep the conversation at a surface level and avoid conversations of depth

  • they talk over other people

  • bad at listening

  • their words sound rehearsed or wooden

  • they don't let anyone get close to them

  • avoid somber moments and always want to lighten the mood

Shy and lacking confidence

  • don't talk often; when they do, it's brief and soft-spoken

  • avoid eye contact by looking downward

  • don't initiate conversations with people one-on-one or in a crowd

  • stiff body language/constantly self-conscious

  • crossed arms or hands (or they carry around an object in front of them as a barrier between them and others)

Loud and lacking confidence

  • talks a lot and doesn't listen well

  • avoids eye contact while talking

  • makes jokes at the expense of others (one-upping)

  • always joking around in general and trying to get others' attention

  • always trying to prove themself at work, in sports, the opposite sex, or any area of life they care about


  • lingering eye contact

  • a knowing little smirk

  • a glint in the eye

  • gaze goes back and forth between eyes and lips; or eyes and body

  • always looks for excuses to tough the person: a light touch on the shoulder or arm, bumping into someone "by accident"

  • teasing

  • likes getting attention


  • stops in mirrors or reflections to check or appreciate their appearance

  • maybe they buy a lot of products to keep up their appearance, i.e., hair products, clothes, makeup

  • posts a lot of selfies on social media

  • wearing stuff that draws attention, i.e., high heels, tighter clothes, anything showing skin

  • likes talking about themselves

  • might exude insecurities (whether true or false) so people rush to disagree with it (i.e., fishing for compliments)


  • crossing arms or legs if seated

  • selective about what they disclose to people; might get on-edge if they perceive anyone is trying to pry into their private life

  • passive in conversations (doesn't engage)

Note: In no way is this list all-encompassing. It is merely meant to be a springboard and starting place for you to build upon. There is no shortage of ways you can express emotion or personality. In fact, each character is going to show jealousy in different ways, for example, or express their insecurities uniquely. Do what works best for each character, and don't be afraid to get creative!

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