Showing vs. Telling

No matter what stage of your writing career you are in, you’ve probably heard a lot about showing vs. telling. Like me, you may be SICK of hearing about it. But, there’s a reason we are all sick of it… it is a plague on the writing world! So, I’m going to break this down into a quick mini-lesson.

Showing is letting the reader EXPERIENCE the action, the setting, or the characters . Telling is just giving the reader information. TELLING IS BORING.

You’ve got all sorts of weapons to combat boring storytelling in your arsenal of writing tools. Let’s take a look at just a few of them.

Combat Telling with Action

This is telling:
She was surprised because thought she was addressing another child and not a full grown man.

This is showing:
When she finally looked up from the mess, and her eyes locked with his, her head snapped back in surprise. She took in his fancy clothes, and then hid her flushed cheeks behind her hand.

Do you see the difference? They both give the same information–she’s surprised and embarrassed because he is not who she expected. But, the second example is active; the first is not.  I can share the experience with the characters in the second example. I can see it and feel it.

Let’s look at another example:

This is telling:
Marla heard a whisper coming from under her bed. She was afraid.

Hopefully, you can spot the telling in this right away. The ‘Marla heard’ is a pretty dead giveaway right off the bat. And as much as I appreciate short and to-the-point sentences, “she was afraid” is just lazy. I mean, she just heard a voice under the bed and all the reader gets is “she was afraid”?

Let’s try it again.

This is showing:
A small whisper rose from under the bed. “Marla.”

Marla’s heart was pounding so loud she could barely hear the voice. She pressed her eyes closed and cocooned herself inside her comforter. 

Combat Telling with Dialogue

This is telling:
The surgeon is arrogant.

This is showing:
I considered his suggestion and then looked back over my notes. “But, Dr. Woods specifically said for you to remove the tumor and not just sample it.”

He lowered his head and cut his dark eyes up at me. “Well, that’s because she’s the doctor and I’m the surgeon.”

Let your characters speak for themselves. You can get a lot of information about personality, education, self-worth, etc. just by how they speak.

Combat Telling with Sensory Details

This is telling:
Karen liked it when her mother baked cookies.

This is showing:
Karen licked every morsel of melted chocolate off her fingertips.

Doesn’t that just make your mouth water with chocolatey happiness?

And this concludes our mini-lesson in showing vs. telling. There is plenty more that I could add to this very condensed overview. If you would like to add to this list… well, that’s why God created comment sections. See below!!


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