One of the rules of good writing is the show, don't tell rule.

I want to create a realistic fantasy world, so I've thought about details like astronomy, geography and so on. For instance, this world has a lighter gravity than Earth, which allows flying heavy animals and living on higher mountain tops.

But how could I show this for the readers without telling them? And without referring to Earth?

  • See the first half of my answer to this duplicate question.
    – user5645
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 8:46
  • Also, you misunderstand "show, don't tell". That 'rule' –which isn't one and doesn't hold true for all kinds of writing, e.g. not for YA romance – does not apply to the description of environments. What "show, don't tell" means is that you shouldn't tell the reader what a character feels ("John was sad."), but rather show the reader the effects of that emotion ("Tears rolled down John's face."). Much like in real life, where you cannot see what a person feels, but only see how they behave (facial expression, action) and must deduce the feeling from that observation.
    – user5645
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 8:57
  • "Show, don't tell" doesn't apply to writing with a lot of interiority, that is, writing that narrates the interior perspective of a character. A sentence like "I felt sad" is perfectly fine, although it is "telling", because going out of your way to show the interior effects of that emotion – effects for which we lack words – only to avoid that brief designation would just confuse the reader and stand in the way of your story. Also, there are genres in which telling is the expected standard. Another example, besides YA romance, are children's books.
    – user5645
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 9:01
  • Another duplicate with helpful info is: writers.stackexchange.com/questions/9505/…
    – Standback
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 13:06
  • @what : This is a perfectly reasonable use of "show, don't tell." In this case, OP is trying to avoid infodumping - i.e. telling the reader about the setting, instead of showing the reader how the setting is strange, different and interesting. It's always a challenge.
    – Standback
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 13:09

2 Answers 2


The people in your story might not know anything about Earth, but your readers do. You can show lighter gravity by describing things that couldn't happen on Earth -- a person out for a jog bounding high enough to brush tree branches, somebody casually carrying an anvil under one arm (this depends on whether your low-grav folks have lost strength, of course), a game of something like basketball where the basket height is several times the height of the players "to make it a little challenging", and so on. What you describe has to seem perfectly natural to your characters (from their point of view gravity is normal), but has to stand out as unusual to your readers.

The same approach works for other variations -- a casual reference to the second moon rising, to the blue-white glow of the sun, to the scraggly purple brush in the forests of blue-leafed trees, whatever.

Showing means describing and letting the reader draw the conclusions you want him to draw.

  • 1
    If strength loss is the case (like in Burroughs' "Barsoom" series, but no John Carter character to set the perspective right), showing low gravity becomes a little tougher. If people of this world still have normal toughness, then feats like jumping from second story window and landing safely would be trivial for everybody. If toughness is also lost, it's possible to take advantage of slow falling - like dropping a glass and catching it in mid-air.
    – Alexander
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 18:30
  • 1
    This only works if the reader understands the reasons for the unusual. He might deduce that the people only carry anvils and jump higher because they are stronger. If there is more than one plausible explanation for an occurence, then there is no way around 'telling', if you want to avoid confusion. Explaining the world to the reader, instead of narrating from the point of view of an inhabitant of the future, is not a bad storytelling strategy, and many SF novels simply explain some things in a straighforward way: "Gravity on Second Earth was only two thirds that of Earth, and ...".
    – user5645
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 9:12

I am not sure, how lower gravity would allow people live higher up a mountain (it is not gravity, it is a lack of oxygen which limits the habitability in that dimension, and the lower the gravity is, the less atmosphere the planet is able to detain, but I am not a physicist, and could be mistaken), but in a different gravity world both flora and fauna would adapt to it--this might be a question for the worldbuilding exchange--the trees would likely grow higher, and yes, larger animals would be able to fly, like dragons and pegasi (is that a correct plural for Pegasys?).

It is for you to decide if the strength of humans and ordinary animals would be scaled down proportionally, and that would dictate the way how to show it throughout the story.

But it definitely has to be showing, not telling--mention the trees, touching the clouds, a bird-of-prey with a six-foot wingspan, etc.

At the end, it is your story and not the gravity which makes the reader interested.

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