“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
― Anton Chekhov
Don’t tell, show. In my opinion this is the most vital and difficult technique for a writer to master.
First, let’s see the difference between telling and showing. We have this sentence: John is a good father. “Telling” just relies on information: John is a good father. “Showing” in the other hand, relies on mental images : John put the story book in the drawer. He kissed his son goodnight and closed the light. See the difference?
Now, let’s examine why “showing” is, usualy, better.
1. It creates mental pictures for the reader. It is a more “vivid,” or “cinematic” way to describe a piece of prose.
2. It forces the reader to become involved in the story and bond with the characters. Although when writing we are using just words, there are five other senses that are involved. As a reader, I prefer not to just read information in a passive way but to see and feel what the character sees and interacts with.
At university, my teacher said to us: “do not throw information at the reader/viewer (for screenwriters), but show it to them. That is the key difference between a good book/movie and a bad one”. I can confirm that this is true.
I have an example from a fantasy book I ‘ve read recently. (I won’t tell the name of the book).