Show, Don’t Tell

A common mistake that a lot of new writers make in their work is that they tend to tell the reader what is going on in a scene instead of showing them.

What I mean by this is that many will write that Tim is angry instead of describing his feelings, which creates a better visual for the reader.

Tim was angry. Tim balled his fists up and his face began to turn red. Which sentence better conveys Tim’s anger? The second one, right? In the second example, the reader was not left to have to create an image in their head of an angry Tim. Instead, the writer provided the visual. Without even telling the reader that Tim was angry, the writer was able to create a visual for the reader that showed us exactly how he felt.

This is the beauty of showing versus telling. By showing the reader what is going on in the story, the writer creates a situation in which the reader is able to get lost in the world that you, the writer have created. As writers, we want the reader to continue thinking about our characters long after they’ve finished the book. We are only able to do this if we create a world that the reader is able to get lost in.

What other ways can we show and not tell? According to an article by Mignon Fogarty, of Grammar Girl: "metaphors and similes also provide an interesting way to create an image for the reader. For example, if you want to say someone is huge and slow, you could use a simile about an elephant. You could say he saunters like an elephant, methodically forcing his path to a crowded watering hole."

Just be careful not to over-describe as: "A story that is filled with such detailed descriptions could become tiresome, so just as you mix long sentences with short sentences to create variety and keep your readers interested, it’s often wise to mix sections that show with sections that tell to keep your story moving."

I’m sure we’ve all read at least one book where the author over-described some scenes, and you probably started to lose interest during those scenes. This is why it is always best to make sure that you have a perfect balance of both showing and telling. Too much detail can lose your reader just as quickly as too little detail can.

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