Show, don’t tell: A useful writing tip, or not particularly?
I probably say this too often, but it’s too often true: There’s not a simple answer to this question.
Yes, in general, it probably is good writing advice. But the truth is that there are occasions when it’s actually better to tell than to show.
Excessive telling does tend to be a common problem, frequently encountered in the work of inexperienced writers.
That’s why many creative writing teachers have a tendency to drive home the message: “Show, don’t tell.”
Showing is being specific, not vague.
Showing is the pounding fist on the table, as opposed to the man “being angry”.
Showing is providing tangible details. It’s sensual, vivid. It’s involving the reader directly.
It isn’t info dumping pages at a time of tedious, indigestible backstory, but instead, weaving any relevant background information into your prose, in vibrant threads.
So, surely I’ve now confirmed that showing is, indeed, better than telling?
Absolutely not. There are many instances when telling is preferable.
The showing of everything, taken to extreme, can become ridiculous, and lead to a “rambling”, long-winded style of writing, which modern readers simply won’t tolerate.
Slipping information into the dialogue is often viewed as an alternative to telling.
Be very cautious when it comes to delivering backstory in this way, as it rarely comes across as natural.
Showing and telling is a fine balance.
Different writers have different styles, and some naturally tend to show or tell more than others, which is fine.
But, whether you default to showing or telling, you need to be attentive to the pros and cons of each. Neither approach is all good or all bad, and you do need to show and tell, in your fiction.
I hope that this post helps to clarify some key points, in relation to showing and telling in fiction, as this subject is often misunderstood.
My recent post about how to identify and fix White Room Syndrome is relevant. This post does discuss the need for more sensory, descriptive location details, in the work of some writers.