What does it mean to ‘Show, Don’t Tell’?
If you’re new to writing you most likely came across the multitude of articles that point out the importance of showing the reader as opposed to telling the reader the story. The reason for the heavy emphasis comes down to the reality that readers are put off by having the story told to them.
Consider the following:
Mellisa put on her shoes then ran to the door. When she opened it she saw it was Jake her ex boyfriend. He was the last person she wanted to see because he dumped her on their last date. She slammed the door shut.
Mellisa grabbed her shoes and ran for the door. Jake? “Seriously?” she lashed out. “I thought it was over?” Before Jake could explain the door was already shut.
Most readers will find the second one more pleasing. The reason is that it elicit’s a visual of the scene. Readers, especially voracious readers, tend to prefer passages that paint the picture. Fast readers tend to be more visual. Telling causes them to slow down. The only visuals they see are the words themselves. This ends up taking them out of the story….and from then the likelihood they will stop reading increases.
Here’s another example.
Mario quickly put the car in fifth gear and then proceeded to pass the other car – a corvette.
Mario slammed the stick shift in high leaving the corvette in the trailing cloud of dust.
Which one elicits a visual? Of course the second passage. We can almost smell the burning rubber!
When editing your writing ask yourself if you are telling the reader what’s happening. If so, rewrite it. Practice will definitely make you better at this.
Of course there will be times when you will tell the story to the reader.
Here’s a passage from the novel I’m working on:
Todd’s leg was on fire. Blood trickled down around the knife and down his leg. He took a deep breath and then pulled it out.
The last sentence could have been written like:
He grasped the knife with both hands and felt the blade as it slid out.
It would have worked but I elected to put in the “telling” simply to change things up. Too much colourful language will cause the reader to get tired and adding a bit of telling changes the pace.
Telling occasionally also has the effect of keeping things ‘natural’.
Try changing things up when you edit but if you have to err, err on the side of showing.