The Writing Newbie

Writing is an adventure. Enjoy the journey and write the way you love!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Show Don’t Tell

Hi everyone!

I’ve good good news: My computer is alive! Someone at school managed to fix it even though my pc is in Dutch, so I am amazed.
I’m settling into my life here at England and thought it was well time for me to post something new
:) Sorry for the long wait guys.

So let’s talk about a piece of writing advice that you’ve probably all heard about, and which no one really agrees on: Show don’t tell.

By show don’t tell, is usually meant that the reader is supposed to experience the story through the characters thoughts and feelings; through the things they do and say. You’re supposed to “see” what is happening, instead of having the narrator (the writer) tell you what is going on by describing or summarizing.

Let me give you an example:

So with tell is meant that you for instance tell the readers how someone is feeling.

“Peter was feeling sad”.

With show you don’t have to tell the readers that Peter is sad, because they can come to that conclusion themselves by “seeing” how Peter acts:

“Peter curled up in the corner of the room. He was shaking uncontrollably and big tears rolled down his cheeks, soaking his shirt.”

Ok so I’m just making these up as I go along, but I think you can tell that Peter is either really sad (or scared out of his mind, but you would be able to make that out of the context).

The second sentence is more elaborated than simply “Peter was feeling sad” and can show us just how said he is, an
d tells us more about Peter himself. For instance if Peter is sad we know he likes to be alone—he goes to his room—and that he curls up in a corner so he feels more safe and secure. You can learn a lot more about the characters by showing the reader what is going on, because you’ll need the characters to show them.

In the words of Janet Evanovich: "Instead of stating a situation flat out, you want to let the reader discover what you're trying to say by watching a character in action and by listening to his dialogue. Showing brings your characters to life."

Don’t worry this doesn’t mean that it is not allowed, or frowned upon or completely terrible if you use telling in your stories. Some famous authors use mostly telling instead of showing. Like Jane Austen for instance. And in first person narrative you’ll always tend towards more showing than in third person narrative.

But personally I think that both showing and telling are important in any novel. You shouldn’t show everything to the reader. Some parts of the story just aren’t interesting or important enough to show. For instance: two guys are travelling to the mountain of snow. On the second day they encounter a terrifying wizard. They escape. All this is great to show the readers. But then they travel for three days more and absolutely nothing happens until nightfall of the last day. Then it’s alright to say: The next three days were exhausting but uneventful. We saw no trace of the wizard and the forest seemed peaceful and quiet. Still we hardly slept and couldn’t help glancing back every now and then. For the feeling of fear that the wizard would return was fresh in our hearts. It wasn’t until night fell and we made camp in the shadow of the mountain that we saw him again.
And now is the perfect time to switch back to showing, and show the reader how they met the wizard again, how they were feeling and what happened.

If you would show absolutely everything, you’d end up with a 500.000 word manuscript that is impossible to get through.

Showing is important to make the action scenes more vivid, to make the characters more real and to make the story come to life in your imagination. To make the story interesting and compelling. Telling is important to cut to the more exciting and important scenes. Telling is important to give the reader a breather from all the showing, and describing. It’s important for progress in the story. Plus, it makes the important scenes (that are shown) stand out in the text.

Basically I think you shouldn’t worry about it too much. If you’re not sure if you’re using the right balance between showing and telling, re-read your story a bit and see if there are pieces that are hard to read through or boring—why is that? Is it because you describe too much? Or is it because you tell everything?
If you feel like your character is too flat and you don’t really get to know him that much in the story, see if maybe you need to do a little more showing. Because showing, makes your character breathe magic and come to life.

I really hoped this helped you a bit. And thank you guys for sticking with me, it means a lot. Any questions, random comments and/or suggestions for new posts are very welcome!! You’d be helping me out!

Keep writing!

Xx LordKiwii


  1. @Marion: Wauw dat is waarschijnlijk the best comment ever :D lol

  2. Heyy! Thanks for the help- I always overuse one or the other!

    I gave you an award on ma blog! ^.^ xxxx