Take a seat in your favorite reading chair! This blog post is brought to you by Jade Young, a fellow author. Find her bio at the end of this article.
Show vs Tell is easily one of the most preached about rules when it comes to writing. Some writers think you should always show and never tell. Other writers think showing leads to paragraphs that are much too long and easily bores readers.
The truth is you can and should do both. The purpose of telling is to state facts or opinions and provide information. The purpose of showing is to describe the situation and allow the reader to imagine the story and events. Basically, telling names emotions, feelings, and environments, while showing evokes emotion and describes what your characters are seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling, saying, etc.
For example, as I previously stated in a prior blog post on avoiding common writing mistakes, “I can tell you my character's house was on fire, but it takes a good writer to help you feel the heat coming from the blaze, smell the charred wood, and hear the crackle of the flames.”
So, when should you show and when should you tell?
It’s Okay to Show if:
-You Want the Reader to be Invested: Is something important happening? Are you adding tension or mystery? Will this affect the plot or subplots? Does the reader need to remember this? If you can answer yes to any of those questions, then show away!
-You Need to Convey an Emotion: Is this is a critical moment in your novel? Is your character worried, scared, or excited? Show this! Use facial expressions and body language to show your readers the emotions your characters are experiencing.
-You Want to Introduce a Setting: If you’re setting up a place your characters will go often, or that is important to your novel, be sure to use the five senses in order to set the scene.
It’s Okay to Tell if:
-You’re Transitioning: If you’re moving your story from one scene to the next and want to let readers know how much time has passed you should simply tell what happened. Day turned into night. Two weeks passed. This ensures that you don’t slow down the pace of your novel and readers aren’t bored.
-You’re Being Redundant: If you’ve already set the scene three chapters ago and beautifully described your main character’s house, office, garden, secret spot where she turns into a princess, etc. then there’s no need to restate that information. Use short concise sentences to remind the reader of important details or minor changes.
-Emotion is High or You Need to State Something Important: Yes, it’s possible to show too much. Don’t get overly dramatic in your descriptions or you will annoy the reader. Show just enough and then hit the reader with a fact to drive the point home.
Additional Tips to Remember:
-When deciding to show instead of tell be sure to focus on verbs and emotions. Don’t state that your character is happy or mad or that they saw or thought something. Simply stating verbs and emotions pull the reader out of your book. Instead, describe what your character is doing or feeling. Have them shed a tear at a wedding, reach for something with shaky hands and a racing heart, or fall to their knees after a defeat.
-A first draft simply has to exist. Afraid you’ve completely ruined your novel and now you’re anxious to edit the mess out of everything? Don’t! Tell the story and focus on editing out long descriptions, or adding more description, in the editing phase. Beta readers and critique partners can be a big help with this.
(P.S. If you’re looking to find a critique partner click here!)
-Practice Makes Perfect: Read and write often. Pick up your favorite book and analyze a descriptive paragraph. What has the author done well? Is there anything you could use and apply to your own writing? Engage in writing prompts or short story contests using the tips above, and save each exercise in a notebook or to your computer. After a couple of months analyze your strengths and weaknesses. How have you grown? In what additional areas can you approve?
P.S. Looking for more writing inspiration? Here are 10 Podcasts for Writers and Creatives
I hope this blog article was helpful in helping you master show vs tell. If you have any other suggestions, or additional questions, please leave them in the comments down below.
Jade Young is a blogger, and writing coach, currently working on her debut novel. You can find helpful tips, writing advice, and more information about her services on her website at www.theeducatedwriter.com. You can also read along as she writes her debut novel at http://www.wattpad.com/authorjadeyoung