“Show, Don’t Tell”: Indirect Characterization with AI Images


This lesson enriches students’ narrative writing skills by emphasizing the importance of “show, don’t tell,” a pivotal technique in engaging storytelling. It strengthens critical thinking and creativity, encouraging students to craft detailed, vivid character portrayals and analyze their peers’ work. Moreover, integrating AI image generation technology appeals to digital-native learners and visually demonstrates the power of their descriptive writing, connecting literary art and visual interpretation.
Materials Needed Time needed 
  • Writing tools (paper and pens, or computers)Access to an image generator platform
  • Examples of direct and indirect characterizationCharacter trait list for reference
Approximately 45 – 60 minutes
  • Students will be able to distinguish between direct and indirect characterization in writing.
  • Students will be able to apply the “show, don’t tell” technique to depict characters’ traits effectively.
  • Students will be able to utilize image generators to visualize and refine their character descriptions.
Key Concepts & Vocabulary 

Direct Characterization: Author explicitly describes a character’s traits.

Indirect Characterization: Traits revealed subtly through actions, dialogue, or thoughts.

“Show, Don’t Tell”: Technique using sensory details to display emotions and characteristics.

Image Generator: AI tool transforming text descriptions into visual representations.



  • Discuss Characterization: Explain direct and indirect characterization.
    • Direct = Clear statements about a character (e.g., “He is mean”)
    • Indirect = Character revealed through quotes, actions, etc.Use examples from the Sources links below, or create your own.
  • Discuss the “show, don’t tell” principle – It’s often said that writers should show what someone is like rather than directly telling the reader.

Understanding Character Traits

  • Break students into pairs or small groups of 3-4.
  • Show the Character Trait List from the Sources links.
  • Each group discusses and writes down examples of direct and indirect characterization for one or two traits. (For example, for the trait “depressed,” students might indirectly characterize by writing “She dragged herself into the room with maximum effort. ‘Morning,’ she said, with dark bags under her eyes. ‘Nothing good about it.’”

Visualization with AI Image Generator

  • Demonstrate the use of an AI image generator (see links below). Type in some text in a characterization and show the result. (An example of this is shown at the end of the lesson.)
  • Students use their indirect characterizations and make AI-generated images with them.
    • NOTE: If they described the character traits well through indirect characterization, the resulting image should clearly portray the characteristic they chose. If the image is not clearly showing the characteristic, then the prompt may need to be modified for greater clarity.
  • Have students submit images through a learning management system (such as Google Classroom) or some other method.
  • Display the students’ images on the screen and have other students guess what characteristic they were trying to portray.
Discussion Questions
  • What are the challenges you experienced in portraying characteristics through these indirect methods?What did you do to overcome those challenges?
  • Which part of your character description do you think most strongly influenced the image that was generated? Why?
  • Were there any descriptions that the image generator interpreted differently than you expected? What does this tell you about the importance of clarity in writing?
  • How do people ‘show’ their personality traits in real life without ‘telling’ them?
  • How do you think technology, like the image generator, can help in the writing process?
Supplemental Activity Ideas 
Writing Assignment: Students write a short story or scene using “show, don’t tell” to depict their characters. An AI image generator could be used to illustrate the story.Research: Students can find examples of indirect characterization in their favorite books or movies and bring them to the next class for discussion.
Sources to Learn More
Defining characterization / Examples of indirect characterization – https://www.readwritethink.org/sites/default/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson800/Characterization.pdfCharacter Trait List – https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B1jGckSL47lIMjJ1djlfM3ZIa3M/Simple Image Generators – Ideogram    Lexica   Craiyon