‘Show, don’t tell’ is an infamous writing technique that you may have heard plenty of times as a writer. The technique goes back to the time of Ernest Hemingway and we can see him apply this rule diligently in his work, however, this rule was incorporated in writings even before it was given a name. The ‘Show, don’t tell’ technique invokes the senses in the readers' imagination and allows the reader to experience the story through action words, thoughts, and feelings rather than describing the action or activity directly. It describes the scene and allows the reader to build an image in their mind.
Its been proven that showing the actions and feelings rather than telling can draw the reader in much faster and create empathy in them for the story or the character as they become invested in the story, you can immediately spot this type of writing being adopted in prologues on fiction work for this very reason.
Showing vs Telling
When you tell a reader rather than show, you are simply informing them of what is happening, this fails to jog the readers' imagination and come off as boring. E.g. if your character is tall you can help the reader understand this by describing things around them that deduce their height. This can be done by showing how other characters look up when speaking to them or perhaps how they must duck to go through a door.
3 steps to Mastering ‘Showing’
• Dramatise Character Traits. - using action to reveal a character's traits connects with the reader in a more powerful way than just what they say. Much like in real life, actions speak louder than words and a reader can be made to understand the depth of the character through this. E.g let say we have a character who is unemployed and determined to get a job. Instead of just telling the reader ‘she was determined to get a job’ you can help the reader understand just how determined she is by saying ‘she applied to every single job she could find in her field of interest and she would visit every office and wait for an interview, sometimes the whole day.’
• Strong active verbs in your scene descriptions. - The theatre of the mind is better than any movie that can ever be produced, that's why a movie will never live up to a book in a readers mind. The usage of verbs can be employed to build these images in the mind of the reader, these action words can help the reader visualise the story. Some verbs may describe an action better than others
E.g. Sally walked in, crossed over to the couch and sat down. She is exhausted after her night shift.
This sentence a bit bland but functional nevertheless, but if we were to replace the weak adjectives with strong ones, it would sound more like this.
Sally trudged into the apartment, dropped her bags on the ground and collapsed on to the couch.
The verbs used above describes a more vivid image in the mind of the reader which makes the rest of the sentence,’exhausted after her night shift’ irrelevant.
• Externalising the internal. - at the center of storytelling lies the art of revealing internal thoughts through actions. Even when it comes to the thoughts of the character, find a way to show them through action rather than telling the reader. There is magic in the reader making out the character of the person through personal judgment. This happens in many Rom - Com stories as the author will describe actions of the character and leave the audience or fans to debate the feelings of the character.
Showing vs telling is very important, especially if you want your writing to stand out and get noticed by a publisher, however, don’t be mistaken, telling is also acceptable. It's about choosing the correct technique for the moment. It would be laborious for a reader to follow every single action of the character from the beginning to the end in the ‘Show’ technique. The book would go on forever and you would lose the readers interest eventually, therefore using the ‘Tell’ technique is a good option to follow a character through the mundane activities of the story and use the ‘Show’ technique to emphasis and create vivid details.
What are your thoughts on the show don’t tell rule?