Show Me Don’t Tell Me

A lot of writers can write and tell a story.  The issue is simply that, we tell.  So what does it mean to show vs. tell?  When an editor or an agent comes back with this comment it usually puts the writer into a tail spin.  Isn’t it always easier to point a finger at a general problem rather than point out the exact issue.

To over simplify the problem I think the best summary I can give you is this: any time you say she felt, or he looked you are telling rather than showing.  If you are using 1 sentence to get into the house, you are probably telling.  What can you do?  Stop and envision.  Watch the scene as a movie in your head.  Movies are show not tell – for obvious reasons. When you describe a movie scene how do you show someone in words so they understand?

What sounds better?  Marci walked thru the door.   Or Marci turned the knob and crossed the threshold.  One implies action while the other is stating the obvious. It really all in the word choice.  Is either wrong?  No.  But showing is preferred by almost every agent, editor, and publisher out there.  The idea is to choose strong verbs that entice the reader to envision the action.

Another example:  Jamie felt like her life was over and cried. Or Jamie’s heart thudded and her chest felt tight.  Her eyes burned as she let loose a flood of tears.

Jane walked into a dark room and felt instantly scared. OR Jane was surrounded by black as she entered the room.  Her hands began to shake and her breathing grew rapid. 

 Showing will add more words.  This isn’t bad as long as each word was chosen carefully and aids in helping your reader understand what is going.  I am no expert, but I am working on my own process at the same time so I hope this helps.  Someone told me that telling can actually speed along the story – in a bad way.  So slow it down, add some details, and let the reader escape.

If you have a great example or some useful show vs. tell advice please comment below! Happy Monday and Happy writing.

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5 thoughts on “Show Me Don’t Tell Me

  1. Katie Checkley says:

    I think the ‘show and tell’ theory is great for beginning writers. You used some great examples to showcase that. I know of writers though, who are just fabulous “tellers.” I think it depends. If your telling is awful, show. But if you tell well…then who says you can’t do it? Right? I think it ultimately comes down to good writing vs. bad writing.

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I think that once you understand what you are doing and where you need to go the mechanics become different. I don’t think an experienced writer will tell their entire story; showing would be second nature at some point. I think…

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