Why you need to "show, don’t tell"

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Show, don't tell. This age-old adage is a well deployed technique of creative literature. Wikipedia explains it well:

When applying “show, don’t tell”, the writer does more than just tell the reader something about a character; he unveils the character by what that character says and does. Showing can be done by:

  • writing scenes
  • describing the actions of the characters
  • revealing character through dialogue
  • using the five senses when possible

We've listed a couple of examples below for you to see it in action.

Instead of telling:
Mrs Parker was nosy. She gossiped about her neighbours.

The writer could show:
By turning the blinds ever so slightly, Mrs Parker could just peek through the window and see the Ford explorer parked in the driveway. She squinted to get a better view of the tall, muscular man getting out of the vehicle and walking up to Mrs Jones’ front door. He rang the doorbell. When Mrs Jones opened the door and welcomed the stranger into her home with a hug, Mrs Parker gasped and ran to her phone.

“Charlotte, you are not going to believe what i just saw!” Mrs Parker peeked out the window again to see if the man was still inside.

Another example of telling:
“Five years ago, John Meadows married Linda Carrington. Although both had grown up in Brooklyn and didn’t want to leave, John had accepted a job in Montana and moved his young family west. He found he liked the mountains and open sky, but Linda was frustrated and unhappy. This all became clear the night they attended a party at their neighbours’ house.”

Showing:
“I told you I didn’t want to go to this,” Linda said as she stood beside John on their neighbours’ steps. “It’s just going to be as lame as every other party we’ve been to since we got here.”

“You used to love parties,” John said, avoiding eye contact.

“Yeah, well, that was back in Brooklyn. But Montana isn’t Brooklyn.”

“No.” He looked at the mountains, coloured flame by the setting sun, the sky he had come to love. Then he looked at Linda, glowering even before they went inside. In five years of marriage, she had changed so much. They both had.

Why authors use this technique
Both these examples illustrate the power of ‘showing.' It allows the reader to follow you as a writer, into the moment you have created. By being more specific it helps to make your writing come alive. Showing dramatises a scene in a story to help the reader forget he is reading, to help the reader get to know the characters, to make the writing more interesting.

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