How do Writers implement 'show don't tell' Effectively?


show don't tell
This is a concept the separates novice writers from more experienced ones. Effective use of show and tell marks a writer who has taken the time to learn their craft well. The first thing we should address is what is showing and what is telling? It's as simple as this: Telling states facts. Showing engages the reader by allowing them to use their senses and make their own judgment. Let's take a look at this extract from The White Rose, my own work, and see what we can do to improve it.

Vincent hadn't noticed there was a girl sitting on the lower bunk behind him. 'The people from Karana are thick.' She said loftily. He took stock of the waif sitting behind him; she had bright red curls hanging to her shoulders and sharp green eyes. She was incredibly slight, even more so than he was, he could also see from the outline of her shirt that she was just beginning to blossom into womanhood. He felt his cheeks flush red in a mixture of anger and embarrassment.

The main sentence I want to work with is the last one. It is a telling sentence. It tells the reader that Vincent is feeling angry after the girl's taunt. It would be much better if it showed the reader how he was feeling and let them make up their own mind. For instance: Vincent's fists curled up, his nails dug into the fleshy part of his hand. Blood pounded in his ears as the meaning of the girl's words sank in.

These small changes actively engage the reader and help draw them into the world Vincent is living in by showing them his emotional response. Naming an emotion is a very clear telling method. Why use angry when there are so many more interesting words to use?

Another mistake that is often made is inserting lots of adjectives into a passage, this is just fancy telling, adjectives have a place but they still don't engage the reader, they should be used with moderation. Adverbs have the same effect, particularly in dialogue tags; let's go back to the passage above. Instead of using 'loftily' try:

'The people from Karana are thick,' she said raising her eyebrow.

Sounds much better doesn't it? However, all showing and no telling will make for a word-heavy, verbose, boring story. There are times when an author should tell and not show. Readers don't want to know every detail of how a character gets up in the morning, or how they travel to work each day. These are parts of a story that can be glossed over in favor of more interested bits ' like discovering a body at work on arrival at the office for instance. In the purpose of pacing for a story, telling can be a good thing.

So when do you tell and when do you show? This isn't always a simply answered question. If you want your reader to feel what the character is feeling, then showing is what you need. If it is a scene minor importance but necessary for plot purposes, like a character getting up and going to the bathroom, then it is probably better to tell. What an author must strive to do is find the right balance between showing and telling. This is not an easy trick to accomplish and it takes time, practice and endless revisions of work.

I find that when I do the first draft of a story, like that above, I commit a multitude of telling sins. There is nothing wrong with going back and adding it in, or taking it out, during a re-write, this is what first drafts are for after all. I hope this helps with clarifying these two concepts up and that you keep in mind it gets easier with practice, The Lord of the Rings wasn't written in a day, it took years to perfect. Keep this in mind and you'll get there.

Written by : Debbie Rushby, Hull, UK (BA Hons English 2:1)

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Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )

Disclaimer: The suggestions in the article(wherever applicable) are for informational purposes only. They are not intended as medical or any other type of advice