Show vs. Tell, the Proverbial Tightrope

Everyone has heard the oft-repeated advice show, don’t tell. I am a proponent of this advice…however…like all pieces of advice do not accept it as gospel. As a writer you must understand that there are times when you need to “tell” your reader something rather than drag it out by showing. If you need evidence of this, think of a novel you read that was 500 pages, and you realized it should have been 250. We’ve all read those books where it was apparent someone thought they had to show everything, and not only does the story drag as a result but the story is often lost in all that rhetoric.

If a scene is important to moving a story forward, then you should show the reader what happens. However, if the reader merely needs to know that something took place to understand a current narrative thread, then update the reader through telling. Another problem with showing and telling can be doing both. Not trusting the reader to get the picture you’ve created so you tell after you’ve shown.

Nancy’s jaw locked and her eyes narrowed. She leaned into his personal space making sure he felt the need to back up. She pressed her finger into his chest and leveled him. “Never, never cross me again.” Nancy was beyond angry.

The comment Nancy was angry is unnecessary and is a case of the writer telling the reader after they have already shown the read that Nancy is pretty pissed off. Trust the reader. If you are showing them what is happening in the story, that’s all the lead they’ll need.


1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “Show vs. Tell, the Proverbial Tightrope

  1. I admit I keep forgetting to show. That’s a good example by the way, I need to go back over my stuff. Thanks!

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