“Show vs. tell” is a cardinal rule of writing, yet most first-time authors don’t quite understand what it is. After years of trying to explain this concept, I believe I’ve finally come up with the perfect analogy: online dating!
Imagine this scenario, even if you’re not on the market: You sign up for an online dating site, excited to (maybe) meet the person of your dreams – for this post, let’s say that’s a man. As you flip through profile after profile, you stumble across these two:
Profile A: “I’m an attractive, witty, adventurous man with a great sense of humor.”
Hmmm…who says he’s attractive? I’ll be the judge of that when I see his photo. And why exactly is he witty? He hasn’t said one witty thing. Adventurous? Why is he adventurous? Great sense of humor? Say what? Honey, I’m not laughing.
Profile A guy is telling me too much and showing me nothing. As a result I don’t want to meet him, because unfortunately he sounds sort of full of himself.
Profile B: “For the record, if we hit it off, I’m totally willing to lie about how we met. Just throwing that out there. And speaking of throwing things out there, I recently jumped out of a plane for the first time. Holy frick.”
Through his words, Profile B guy is showing me that he’s witty, adventurous, and has a great sense of humor. And by showing me a photo, he’s letting me decide whether or not he’s attractive.
See the difference? That’s what you want to do with your writing. Show the reader, don’t tell the reader. Readers are smart and want to draw their own conclusions about your characters. A little telling is okay, but you don’t want to overdo it.
This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2013 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.