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March 18, 2014

Show AND Tell

We all have heard the saying “Show don’t tell”, and we all know showing is good. When you show, you are creating a vivid image in your reader’s mind for what is happening in your book. I admit it, sometimes I tell when I should show (I'm not perfect), but the rule "show don't tell" shouldn't be taken too literally all of the time.

Let me explain.

If you only show you will have a book full of lengthy descriptions and too many details that will overwhelm your readers. I once read a book, which I loved, that showed the character shopping for EVERYTHING she lost due to a house fire. This happened right after the climax and it made me skip whole paragraphs out of annoyance. I wanted to read the end, not read about the heroine's shopping spree! On the other hand, if you only tell, you will have an informative story that will probably bore your readers to pieces. So the best strategy is to show and tell when appropriate.

Show action.

Show your character’s passion and feelings.

Show scenery and visuals.

Tell information and facts.

Tell minor details.

Tell when you need to summarize a previous event.

In other words, show the entertaining parts that can engage a reader, and tell the less entertaining parts your readers just need to know. The key to showing AND telling is not to be excessive with either option, but to find a balance.

3 Tips to help you show:
1: Close your eyes and picture exactly how you want an event to unfold as if you are watching a movie. Open your eyes and write everything you saw so you can show it to your readers. 
2: Be specific. 
3: Use the 5 senses: see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. 

SHARE: Your tips for SHOWING in writing.

QUESTION: Do you believe in “Show, Don’t Tell”, or do you think “Show AND Tell” is a better strategy?


Kelly Hashway said...

Couldn't agree more. I don't need to see mundane details. I'd much prefer a brief telling line in place of them or, like you, I'll start skimming. But most of the time, showing is the better option.

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Kelly. And of course, I agree with you. :D

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Chrys,

I'm so glad you posted this! I am a firm believer in Show and Tell... It is all about the balance. I hate when editors or Betas preach about "you're telling too much..." And in all honesty I'm not. I like a little narration. It's very important to a story! After all we are "TELLING" a story... right?

Unknown said...

Great post, Chrys. I do the #3 tip quite often. I go through the list of senses and see what I'm covering in each scene. I don't do them all with every description, but try to put at least 3 (alternating the ones I use from scene-to-scene).

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you, Michael! I recently had a beta reader who pointed out a couple of moments when I was telling, and I became slightly aggravated because during those times I HAD to tell. People act like you can't tell at all but, just like you said, we're telling a story, and not everything, all the time, has to be showing.

Chrys Fey said...

Thanks, E.J.! Using the senses is a great way to show and to be more vivid. I like your technique of alternating them from scene-to-scene. :)

Unknown said...

I definitely think it depends on the scene but I think showing has more value to the reader than simply telling. As you mentioned above, I feel that one of the best ways to do this is to close your eyes (as the writer) and just visualize the action or surroundings you want your reader to envision. He/she might not have the same perceptions as you do but that is the beauty in simply leading through vivid descriptions or dialogue. This enables the reader to think freely but somewhat picture the world you are creating for them in your head. Great thoughts here, as usual Chrys! Can always count on your posts for incredible help and advice=)

Chrys Fey said...

It certainly does depend on the scene if more showing or telling is needed. I agree that showing is more valuable, but I believe a balance of some sort is important for the overall story.

Thank you, Gina. :)

Carol Apple said...

Thanks for the tips Chris. I often have dreams that would serve as great inspiration for showing details, if only I could remember the details, so I really like the idea about closing your eyes. I agree though that showing and not telling is not a hard and fast rule. I have read a lot of books on creative non-fiction, for example some excellent ones by Philip Lopate, and am convinced that sometimes it's better to transition and avoid boring the reader by telling for a line or so.

Chrys Fey said...

You're welcome, Carol! You're right, telling every now and then to break up the showing isn't going to hurt a story, but make it better for the reader.