I'm writing a story in a first-person format, where the main character is blind, and I'm struggling with the 'show don't tell' (SDT) rule. I was wondering if there was any way I could kind of work around it in a way. There is a limited form of magic in the world and I've used it to implement a way for him to "see" while swimming or mostly submerged in water (Being able to "feel" the way water moves and shapes around things, similar to how Toph "sees" in ATLA). Also this character is fully blind, but does not use an aid of any kind.

4 Answers 4


Show isn’t literally seeing. It means crafting the narrative so it is filtered through the character’s experience. That can mean through the character’s sense — taste, smell, touch, hearing in your characters case. It can also mean through the character’s reactions and emotions to a situation or event.

The strongest narratives are built up using senses and emotions and reactions. This is because the technique invokes our empathic mind and our imagination makes the scene seem more real because we can draw on our own experiences

  • Thanks, I think the main thing I want to avoid is I don't want my story to be too dialogue-heavy to compensate for the lack of sight but this has been quite helpful May 14 at 18:10
  • @something_Funny368 Even dialog isn't a violation of "show, don't tell", as long as the dialog is showing and not telling. Dialog that tells: "I'm sad". Dialog that shows: "I can't even remember what a smile feels like". May 17 at 5:28

Your character can hear, right? Smell? Feel the heat of the sun and the cool of the shade? Just write as you would for someone who can see, but don't include visual clues.

So instead of

A figure was approaching along the path. As he drew closer I could see it was Steve.

You can "teach" the reader how the MC knows things:

I could hear footsteps on the path. Steve's gait was unmistakeable.

Or leave it as implied, where some readers may not realize the MC doesn't see for a long time:

Footsteps on the path drew my attention. It was Steve.

Presumably this character has their life set up in a way they can eat, move around, and so on without a lot of help, so you can say the same sort of things as you would for a sighted character

I dressed quickly and grabbed an apple from the bowl as I headed out the door. The wind outside was cutting and cold.

None of this really relates to "Show don't tell". That's about not saying "Steve was impulsive and immature" instead of constructing a scene where we can conclude the MC thinks Steve is impulsive and immature. Not about describing Steve (or the setting) visually.

  • 5
    I think your last paragraph is the real answer here.
    – codeMonkey
    May 15 at 16:10

Show don't Tell is about creating scenes to inform the reader of something, instead of just "telling" the reader some fact.

Say you need Jack to be seven feet tall for some plot point later. Don't just tell the reader that Jack is seven feet tall. SHOW Jack being seven feet tall in scenes. He has to duck under door frames so he doesn't hit his head. If Jack raises his hand, it can get struck by a ceiling fan. If kids get a ball stuck up 9 feet in a tree, Jack can get it for them while standing flat footed. Jack can dunk a basketball without even trying. Jack has difficulty finding clothes that fit him. And so on.

If Mary is a chain smoker, that has consequences. She sneaks out of meetings to get a cigarette, she stinks of tobacco, whenever possible she has a cigarette in her mouth, she refuses to eat at non-smoking restaurants, even if somebody else is paying.

If I had a main character that was blind, I would not even tell the reader he was blind. I would write him doing, whatever he is doing, as a blind person. Relying on hearing, his sense of smell, his touch and feeling (a breeze perhaps, heat perhaps). Mention he wakes up and feels for his cane as the first thing.

Show us he is blind; the reader should be able to tell he is blind exactly as if, in real life, watching a blind person go through this scene so they conclude he is blind.

The entire book should be "Show Don't Tell". Readers build up a movie in their imagination, and the writer's job is to describe the sights,sounds, smells, sensations and emotions of the scene to aid their imagination.

"Telling" is giving readers something to memorize, and they almost always forget it if the information is not "shown" in scenes, and reinforced in scenes. Tell them Jack is very tall, and if you never show Jack being very tall, they will forget that.

But if you never tell them Jack is tall, and contrive reasons to show them Jack is tall, they will remember those scenes, especially in the critical scene where the very tall Jack must stretch and strain more than he ever has before in his life in order to save his friends, failing, and failing, but not giving up. When Jack does something that only Jack could do.


Show don't tell means that you let your readers experience something instead of summarizing the events for them. The term is actually a misnomer, as visualizing events (instead of labelling them with abstract terms) is only one possible aspect of this.

In your cased the question is, how can you make the experience of a blind person palpable to your readers. How can you place your readers inside of your blind character so that they experience what that character experiences from their "viewpoint" (or point of perception, if you will).

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