I'm working on a rewrite of a story of mine. One of the improvements I'm trying to make is avoiding the block of physical description text, and trying to use more show-don't-tell. So far, all I've been able to start with are "The warm light painted the sky gold as it spilt onto [MC]’s leonine face," and "The warm breeze swept through his mane..." but I still feel like I'm doing something wrong here, and not fully conveying that my protagonist is a lionfolk without outright telling the audience.

2 Answers 2


Description is one of those things that will never please everybody. You have to figure out the general nature of your intended audience and try to get them. That is to say, decide what you want the story to be. Then make it that.

Either this lion form is unusual, in which case you need to describe it. Or it is mundane in this world, in which case you need to describe that. If the usual town is populated by nearly all lion forms, that is probably important information.

You don't have to do it all at once. Nor, necessarily, right at the start. Again, you decide what you want the story to be, what you want the effect on your reader to be, and make the story do that. Maybe you want the reader to think "mundane human forms" until a strategic point in the story? That can work. "Oh! They're all lions!" On the other hand, maybe you want the readers to know these are lions right from the start, so the reader can get to know the characters sooner.

The descriptive style you have given samples of needs to be carefully done. If it is done in a "heavy handed" fashion it gets to be like eating zero-calorie sweetener straight out of the package. Unless the story is intended to be "over the top" in which case, pour it on with a large bucket.

The "show don't tell" rule does not mean you can't describe things. Usually that rule means don't say "Bill was a good man." Describe Bill's actions and decisions so that your reader thinks Bill is a good man. But it's perfectly reasonable to describe Bill. Particularly when a physical thing is important to some aspect of the story, you should describe it. The hobbits are short. The wizard has a pointy hat and a beard. Lion forms have teeth, claws, and tails. (I guess?)

There is also something to be said for personal style. Some authors make it work when they put in huge amounts of description. Especially in fantasy type settings. It can be useful to make the "good guys" sympathetic and the "bad guys" not.

It can also be useful when a character goes through a significant event to describe the changes. Imagine your lion went through a house fire. Singed fur, soot, cracked claws, a "brand" mark on his face from an ember, maybe his whiskers are missing on one side. You get the idea.

You can do some "show don't tell" just for fun. A lion form is likely to have desires and reflexes quite different to humans. They might have a "pounce" reflex. Or they might not like getting wet. Or they might show emotion in their ear movements and tail movements. They might display interesting greeting rituals. They might groom when they were upset. And so on.


Who is the narrator of your story?

First person narration (same species)

People look at and think about each other's appearance all the time. I'm sure intelligent lion-beings do the same. Just do what you would do if one man encountered another and noticed that person's looks.

First person narration (different species)

If you encounter an alien species, you will most certainly stare at what they look like and think about their appearance a lot. Just describe it!

Close third person narration

(see above)

Omnisicen third person narration

Just tell the reader!

The narrator is the leonide being

Do you know what you look like yourself? Have your lion-being look in a mirror or reflective surface. If such a thing does not exist, have him look at his body and others make comments about his appearance.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.