‘Show. Don’t Tell’ Adds Depth and Interest

‘Show. Don’t Tell’ Adds Depth and Interest

We’ve heard it from our English teachers, fellow writers, and probably everyone who has ever tried to give us writing advice: “Show. Don’t tell.” It’s the first piece of advice everyone gets when they start professionally writing, but what does it mean?

“Show. Don’t tell” is a device used to allow the reader to experience the story in a sensory and emotional way. Telling is a very straightforward and blunt way of sharing a story. Showing is a way to give the readers a full depiction of the events occurring in the story, and it can enable the readers to more easily empathize with the characters. Here are three ways to trim the amount of telling that goes on in your story:

1. Emotion.

One of the most common examples of telling rather than showing happens when writers attempt to describe a character’s emotions. While it is easy to explain what a character is feeling, a simple telling of the emotion does not express the full intensity of the feeling. The reader might know what a character is feeling, but a good writer wants the reader to feel the emotion. It helps the reader connect with the character involved and draws them deeper into the story. Writers intent on showing will often describe a character’s body language and the way he or she physically carries him or herself.

Example:

Tell: Steve was angry.

Show: Steve balled up his fists and tried to keep himself from striking something.

2. Dialogue.

Occasionally, a writer will move time forward in the story by explaining the events in a blunt manner. However, rather than brushing over the events or dialogue in the story, sometimes it is beneficial for the writer to take the time to transcribe the full account. Scenes draw the readers in and keep them emotionally engaged in the story. A scene depicting two characters will give the main character someone to react to and make the story more interesting.

Example:

Tell: Steve didn’t want him to say it again.

Show: “Stop calling me that,” Steve muttered between gritted teeth.

3. Exposition.

Exposition is a common tool used by writers to bring the reader up to speed on events that happened in the past. Since most novels don’t start from the conception of the main character, there is definitely a time and place for exposition. However, when exposition is overused, it has the tendency to spell things out too bluntly for the reader. Instead of reading paragraphs of exposition, readers like to experience the emotions with the characters.

Example:

Tell: Steve was angry with his father for abandoning him when he was young.

Show: “Your dad called. You should call him back,” said Steve’s mother.

“What dad?” Steve scoffed.

Naturally, “Show. Don’t tell.” does not apply in all cases. There are some situations when it is appropriate to condense the action and supply the reader with a couple lines of exposition. However, many writers benefit from having “Show. Don’t tell.” in their toolbox, and it is an excellent way to make a good story strong. To learn more about how to strengthen your writing, contact our editors at editor@e-allwrite.com.

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