Show, Don’t tell.

The character was an orphan teenager. He was a servant in a Psychiatric clinic. The writer, in order to create sympathy for his character, wrote something like that (they are not the actual words from the book):

“His childhood wasn’t easy. As a kid, he didn’t feel the love that other kids had felt from their parents …. If there was a patient that had hanged himself, they were always send him(the hero) to clean the mess…”

What is that! I mean, really, what is the difference between reading this and a newspaper.

“When Jay Z became the first hip-hop act to headline Glastonbury in 2008, it was a matter of some controversy, with Noel Gallagher insisting it was “wrong” to have a hip-hop headliner.” [1]

Do you feel sympathy for Jay Z? How am I suposed to sympathize the hero, if all that I read is plain information about his life?

It would be much better if the writer showed to me the painful situations that the character had been through.

Example : He saw the patient’s corpse hanging from the ceiling …(disgusting details). Why I must, always,  be the one to clean everyone’s mess in this place. He thought, as he was struggling to let the body loose from the noose.
Or a scene of his childhood. Anything is better from this annoying, boring plain information.

The method of “showing” is great, but there is a problem here. It has been overused by many writers to describe unimportant information to their readers, like buildings, flowers, roads etc. If you try to do it constantly, eventualy, the reader wiil feel exhausted and the parts of your story that are supposed to stand out won’t.

In other words, “showing” is for the vital parts of your book. You  can use it in order to create tension or in a very special scene. This technique should be used to immerse the readers not to distract them, so use it wisely.

Do not forget. “Telling” is also important. As James Scott Bell said: “Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene.”

In conclusion:
You “tell” the things that are of no real importance to the story but are necessary to move the story along. Keep a balance between “showing” and “telling” to keep your writing fluid in a way that serves your story. It is easy to do that, if you follow this advice from Elmore Leonard.

“If it sounds like writing, then rewrite it.”

You can find here more inspirational tips.

[1] The Guardian, Kanye West to headline Glastonbury 2015

5 thoughts on “Show, Don’t tell.

  1. Too true. Knowing when to show or tell, finding the balance between the two can be tricky. But think of it this way, as a reader, do you really want to know how many times character A chooses his/her food (unless the book has a food/cooking theme) before the action starts? Or do you want to skip on through it, like James Scott Bell said, ‘to get to the meaty part”?


  2. schillingklaus says:

    No, I will not succumb to your “show don’t tell” commandment. I detest shown fiction as a reader; ergo, I will not be deterred from telling shamelessly and religiously.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanos Goumenos says:

    Agree, if writing is your hobby. But in my opinion a profesional writer must know very well his art. Know the rules so you can break them. Also, it is not a commandment. No one can command you how to write. Futhermore I quote many writers that agree to that opinion. Check them out.


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