Writing Technique: Showing Vs. Telling If you consider yourself a writer, or are just doing it for fun, you should be aware that there is a strategy involved in writing that is going to create a vivid experience for your reader. The idea of showing them what is going on instead of directly telling them can create a memorable moment in the readers’ minds that will resonate much further than a simple one line description. Take these two examples:
Tell: The dog jumped over the hole.
Show: The tension in the air had every hair on our necks standing on edge as we looked at the Yorkie standing on one side of the yard. His muscles were taut like a spring, when in less than an eye-blink, he uncoiled and shot forward. His hair whipped around his ears as his face strained forward. A small dust cloud rose up in the air as he passed over the chasm and his paws found purchase on the ground. When he turned to face us, we cheered, and from the look on his face he knew we approved of his leap. Can you see the difference? One is a fact, and the other creates an entire world around that one action. Dedicating a paragraph to a moment instead of a simple subject/verb/predicate will hopefully make your readers feel what is going on instead of their eyes just moving across your words. Any moment in your story can be turned from a tell moment into a show moment, and every time will add another little bit of color to your narrative. Not every action in your world needs to be given a paragraph. A book that is dense with action would take even longer if every single moment of the day was cataloged with action, but by peppering your writing with occasional showing-moments, can be extremely effective. Showing people the actions will keep you away from overly repetitive words and phrases that even the best writers cling to at times and will surely entice your audience to keep reading. If you have a piece you recently finished or are in the midst of working on, try taking a simple sentence that falls flat and give it the weight of description. You will find that when this method is used properly, it is going to take your stories to a new place and will help your readers become more connected as they continue to read.
Readers want to be entertained as they read your material. They aren’t too concerned about what goes on behind the scenes. It’s much like when attending a theatrical play; no one really cares how the director and producer work behind the scenes to make things come together, but rather the audience is focused on the actual performance. This is exactly what happens when reading a book, readers don’t really worry too much about how a writer makes a scene happen, but they want to enjoy a well-written book. It is about putting the drama that happens in a story into a “showing” versus “telling” format and appealing to readers’ emotions and sensory perceptions.
When developing a scene, there are decisions to be made before a writer begins. First, a writer should write about something that he knows well or that is familiar. Then the writer should identify where the actual drama is going to fall within a particular section. Lastly, the writer needs to decide how he will show particular sections with words that will tug at a reader’s emotional side and draw him into the story.
Remember that narrative or exposition is just as important as showing a reader what is happening in a story. Understanding when it is more effective to include a narrative section versus showing drama in a scene is just as crucial to a story. Narratives are often used in the beginning of a story to set the stage and to give the reader some inside information; however, it’s important to not make the narrative just a recitation of facts. The narrative sections and the showing-scene sections should balance and complement each other as the story unfolds. It should keep the reader glued to the page!