What does this mean? If I have to SHOW more about a particular traumatic event which happened to me, I would probably not be able to recall the chain of events because I was in a panicked state of mind at the time of incident and there were just too many things happening around and all the people experiencing a lot of emotions which is firstly difficult to understand and then remembering them till we note them down in our journal. But keeping in mind, there are so many autobiographies that are published with so much detail and full of show, not tell events. Do authors/writers actually focus on some particular details of their everyday life? If yes, which parts? I have read a question which is similar(Writing techniques or exercises to improve ability to show rather than tell?) and it has some great tips but I still feel it doesn't answer my question. This is to ask about the art of observing/perceiving things so they would come naturally to me while I describe an event without forget the details.

  • I thought it would stand to mention that many autobiographies out there were not entirely written by the person for who the biography is concerned. The difference between any ol' biography — e.g. Sylvia Nasar, A Beautiful Mine, and John Nash — and an autobiography — e.g. Lindsey Stirling and The Only Pirate At The Party — is that the autobiography is initiated and driven by the subject. Ergo, many autobiographies have assistance writing their manuscripts, and occasionally said manuscripts are entirely ghostwritten. Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 12:41

4 Answers 4


If the moments of that events are jumbled and chaotic, then write it down that way.

crashing sounds oh my god what just is that smoke? people running my heartrate starts to spike the ground is thrumming my legs are jelly I need to get out of here push you idiot get out of my way that is smoke what's burning need to run I need to run

You can remember what led up to that point, and learn about what happened afterwards, and use that new information to impress a more rational timeline on the events. But report what you felt in that moment, what you thought, however fragmented.

Also, someone writing an autobiography has had time to research, compare notes, talk to other people, consult diaries, and so on. It's not like the book pours out of the writer's head fully formed and perfect like a transcribed newsreel.

For the future: carry a notebook with you wherever you go. Practice being observant. Sit on a bench and watch the world go by. Observe the clouds, the sunlight, the traffic. Find a park, take off your shoes, and walk barefoot. Pay attention to the sensations. Write these things down. This will start to teach you the disciplines of observation, memory, and iteration (putting things into words).


Use your imagination. I mean, your imagination should be informed by experiences you've actually had and remembered, but you expand and explore and combine these experiences using your imagination, not your memories.

By 'imagination' I don't mean wild flights of fancy. Don't throw a unicorn into a car crash scene just because your imagination takes you there.

But disciplined use of your imagination would allow you to, for example, remember a time when you were afraid but not so petrified that you lost your memories, and then amplify on that memory to fill in the details of your scene.

More controversially: You should also remember that your readers may not be expecting truth so much as 'truthiness' (to borrow from Stephen Colbert). There are certain expectations in fiction, especially genre fiction, that feel almost more true than reality to many readers. Our fictional heroes are more heroic than real-world heroes, our fictional villains more villainous. You want to be careful that you aren't going too far and creating cartoon characters, but you also want to be aware of the conventions of your genre that you will either subvert or support with your writing.

So at the extreme: if you have a heroic character in a car crash, even if reality suggests that character would be dazed and disoriented and useless, your genre hero probably won't be, unless you're setting up a deliberate subversion of reader expectations.

At a more moderate level: readers expect writing to be more coherent than reality. Writers clean up dialogue all the time (if you don't believe me, read an actual trial transcript and then a fictional version of a trial and see the difference!), we structure narratives in a more satisfying way for fiction (how often do real-world scenarios wrap up with a dramatic climax and satisfying denoument?) and, yes, we describe situations which, in real life, would almost certainly be indescribable by participants.

And we do that by using our imaginations.


This is a common thing if you forgot the details. Its human tendency of mind. You can not recall whole things and feelings until or unless you live them. In your case you lived them but due to your tough situations you are unable to recall them completely. There are many people in everyday life who undergoes situations like you. You can observe them and relate with those incidents which happened to you. As @lauren said about observation, you need to be good observer. Observation is the key to live the moments which even not happened to you. Start observing things. So just close your eyes and observe your breath first :)


"Show Don't Tell" is an axiom of fiction writing.

Here is a short example of why.

Example of Telling

Bob was feeling sad.

Example of Showing

Bob picked up the newspaper, read the headline and his head dropped beneath his shoulders. He rubbed at his eyes as tears dropped onto the paper.

Narrative Versus Exposition The first one is a narrative voice where someone tells you what is happening and how a particular character feels. This is a much easier way to write and generally takes fewer words. However, your readers will have difficulty seeing what you are writing and it is generally more boring to read.

Exposition - Exposing the Actions of Characters

The second one takes more words, because you have to show the character taking actions.

However, the second example also takes more active reading since the reader will decide what he thinks about how the character feels. Obviously, in this case I mentioned that tears were flowing and the reader is most likely going to get the idea that the character is sad, but this type of writing does allow more subtle cues to how the character feels.

Books Versus Movies Think about the way you learn who a character is and what she is feeling in a movie. In 99.9% of the movies there is no internal narration going on telling you that Bob is very sad.

Instead you have to watch and see the actions of Bob on screen.

Self or Others This leads us to why this is an axiom for fiction writers and not necessarily the best when writing personal essays.

If we are watching or reading fiction then we should probably just watch the character's actions and determine how the character feels. It is a better kind of reading experience since it takes more active involvement.


However, if you're writing an essay, you may want to say things out loud, like,

I felt very sad. I was overwhelmed when my girlfriend dumped me.

However, again, notice that the narrative -- versus exposition of showing your actions -- is kind of boring. If instead you show your girlfriend dump you and then show yourself picking up a glass vase and hurling it across the room, everyone reading knows you are feeling upset and you haven't had to speak those exact words and it probably has more dramatic impact.

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