Jorge Luis Borges wrote a lot of short stories describing fictional things and places directly to the reader (like The Library of Babel).

For instance, let's see one excerpt of Decline and Fall of Roman Empire (Edward Gibbon):

When Persia was governed by the descendants of Sefi, a race of princes whose wanton cruelty often stained their divan, their table, and their bed, with the blood of their favorites, there is a saying recorded of a young nobleman, that he never departed from the sultan's presence, without satisfying himself whether his head was still on his shoulders.

This is the style of writing I'm aiming for - telling the reader about something interesting, NOT creating characters, dialogs and embedding the information there. So, I would like to write in this non-fiction style but describing a fiction story, like this:

Orion was a hot land with white grass and shallow lakes. The region was inhabited by prideful hunters, white-clothed beings who were often in war with themselves. In the third era, Orion was ruled by Rigel, a king with no crown, but golden boots. He was more peaceful than his father Saiph and all rulers before him, and the reason for his amicable and non-violent attitude was his sister Bellatrix.

Are there any guidelines to write like this? It seems that it violates the Show, don't Tell rule, but for a good reason. Is there a name for this style?

  • What sort of story are you trying to tell? That might influence the answers you get.
    – John Doe
    Mar 7, 2018 at 16:12
  • Hi Chaotic. I changed the title of your question to try to better summarize the question you're asking. If you feel my edit changed your intent in any way, do feel free to Edit further.
    – user
    Mar 7, 2018 at 19:40

2 Answers 2


"Show, don't tell" is a guideline - not a rule

There are no rules when writing fiction. There are tips and tricks for what works for most audiences and what does not work for most audiences. But ultimately everything is up to you and when you decide that you don't want something - then simply don't do it. Don't like short sentences? Write long ones and longer ones and even longer ones and combine them with a repetitive "and" and an "or" or maybe two "and"'s and another "or". Don't like to "Show"? Then go ahead and "Tell".

It depends on your goal and your audience - and if you want to publish it, it may very well depend on your publisher.

I don't think your example is "Telling" rather than "Showing"

The excerpt you showed us isn't simply telling me:

Persia was ruled by the descendants of Sefi. These descendants were often cruel and would regularly kill their attendants.

Instead it's showing me how cruel these people were by illustrating how they stained all of their interieur with the blood of those who were close to them. It shows how people had a somewhat dark humorous saying about someone who would be extremely careful because of the ever-present danger that the sultan was presenting.

You can show through actions and the behaviour of normal people having a saying of this careful young nobleman and his apparent behaviour when he was near the sultan is a perfect illustration for that. There is no need to hide any information in dialogue, but the author clearly created a general personality of the people that he is showing the reader.

Your example displays signs of showing, too. You could have said that there were hunters. But you characterized them as prideful, said that they were white-clothed, which shows how they are hunting in the white grass and you showed that they are regularly fighting with each other. There would be no need to mention that they regularly warred with each other. Only to tell the reader about the specific wars that might be relevant - and to tell them you would need dates and numbers showing casualties and territory lost in greater detail. Furthermore you are showing the reader how he behaved and how this is different from other rulers - he is amicable after all and there is a reason for this character trait - instead of telling the reader he was nice.

This style reminds me a bit of older fairytales. The characters might not have a lot of dialogue, but the narrator is showing the reader all the important stuff.


You may actually be searching for a closer narrator who is telling things in retrospective fashion. However, you seem to be sensing that it comes from the use of passive language though it probably does not.

A very good example of a close narrator comes in the Lemony Snicket series. For example, The Bad Beginning (Lemony Snicket)

(You can read more of the excerpt at the amazon link.)

If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle. This is because not very many happy things happened in the lives of the three Baudelaire youngsters. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire were intelligent children, and they were charming, and resourceful, and had pleasant facial features, but they were extremely unlucky, and most everything that happened to them was rife with misfortune, misery, and despair. I'm sorry to tell you this but that is how the story goes.
Their misfortune began one day at Briny Beach. The three Baudelaire children lived with their parents in an enormous mansion at the heart of a dirty and busy city, and occasionally their parents gave them permission to take a rickety trolley-the word "rickety," you probably know, here means "unsteady" or "likely to collapse"-alone to the seashore, where they would spend the day as a sort of vacation as long as they were home for dinner. This particular morning it was gray and cloudy, which didn't bother the Baudelaire youngsters one bit.

See how it feels as if the narrator is talking directly to you as you read this? That may be something of the style you are going for, but somehow you have sensed that using passive language is what will get you there.

Passive Language, Doesn't Do Much

The challenge of passive language is that it doesn't move much. Instead every nouns seems to just lay there being.

  1. The dog was loud.
  2. The man was mad.
  3. The city was dark.

Yours starts out like:

Orion was a hot land with white grass and shallow lakes. The region was inhabited by prideful hunters, white-clothed beings who were often in war with themselves. In the third era, Orion was ruled by Rigel

An Example Of Active Verbs

My example below is by no means better. It is different. The thing you gain is that your story will begin to do something before the readers' eyes. It will transform from things being to characters and things doing.

I've bolded nouns and italicized verbs.

Allow me to tell you of a land named Orion. In those days, the sun baked Orion until the grass turned white and the lakes ran shallow. Hunters who often fought each other inhabited the region, prided themselves on looking good in their white robes. Finally, in the third era, Rigel ruled with a mighty hand, destroying all invaders, creating peace in the land for a time.

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