Examples of “show vs. tell”
On October 9, 2017 | 0 Comments | Writing tips |

If you’re an author, aspiring or published, chances are you’ve heard of “show vs. tell,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a solid grasp of what it is. At times I struggle with the concept myself, as evidenced by the “Stop telling!” comments my editor makes on the early drafts of my novels.

I recently read a book that helped me understand why it’s so important to show and not tell. Throughout the novel the author explicitly told me how the characters were feeling or what they were doing. As a result I found myself thinking, “Why is the author telling me this? Does he think I’m too dumb to realize that on my own?” Following are some specific examples, with some details changed to protect the author’s identity:

  • “What are you doing here?” Sheila exclaimed in surprise.
  • “Hey, that’s not fair,” Carl said in his own defense.
  • “You’ll understand once you meet him,” Nora explained.
  • “I had no idea,” Roger said in astonishment.
  • Randy’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “No way,” he said.

See how unnecessary the italicized parts are? Good writing makes it clear that characters are astonished, or explaining something, or in disbelief, without having to tell the readers as much.

When we take away the telling and, in some cases, add in some showing, do you notice how much stronger those same sentences are?

  • Sheila gasped. “What are you doing here?”
  • “Hey, that’s not fair,” Carl said.
  • “You’ll understand once you meet him,” Nora said.
  • Roger’s eyes got big. “I had no idea.”
  • Randy’s jaw dropped“No way,” he whispered.

The above examples let us readers use our brains to figure out what is going on, and that’s a much more enjoyable experience than being told what is going on. Keep that in mind when you”re working on your next project!



This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2017 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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