One of the most common things in writing is the show vs. Tell debate. Many writers struggle with whether or not they should show or tell the information they are presenting. There is a right time and place for both, but it’s so much easier to tell rather than show, so today I thought I’d share some of the ways that I have learned to incorporate showing in my own writing.
1. Writing in scenes – This method can be pretty useful when it comes to showing. Scenes are small sections of a story that depict what happens at a single place or setting. It can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a chapter. The point of writing in scenes is the focus of the scene. Ask yourself “Why am I writing this? What’s the purpose?” Some reasons that you may be writing this scene is because you need to give the reader information that will further the plot, to show conflict between characters using plot and dialogue, to develop a character by letting the reader see how they react to situations, and/or creating tension/suspense.
Telling: Claire’s mom tried to get Claire to do her schoolwork, but she was just too distrated.
Showing: “Claire, let’s work on our handwriting,” Claire’s mom said, motioning for her to come sit at her desk.
Claire walked over to her tiny red desk and plopped down. Her mother placed the lined paper in front of her and said, “Can you write Big A?”
Picking up her pencil, Claire began to write the letter. Before she could finish, sirens blaring outside caught her attention. She snapped her head toward the window as the sirens grew louder and then quickly faded away.
Her mother tried to get her attention again by tapping her finger on the paper. Claire glanced down at the paper and picked up her pencil again. As she started to write, more sirens blared by. Claire dropped her pencil and ran to the window, pressing her little face against the glass. “Look, mommy, it’s a firetruck!”
In this example, you can see the difference. With telling, you are just making a statement or giving the information straight. With showing, you are depicting what happened by showing how and why Claire was distracted.
2. Dialogue – I think dialogue is a fantastic way to show traits of characters. You just want to be careful not to use dialogue to do a bunch of telling for telling’s sake.
Example: “Howdy Steve. Whatchoo doing over ther?’”
In this example, you can see that the use of phonetics allows us to gather that this character is from some portion of the deep south by portraying his/her southern drawl. In this sense, we are showing this trait. If we had said, “Howdy Steve. What you doing over there,” He said with a southern drawl, that would’ve been us telling the reader.
*You can use dialoge for more than just phonetics. You can use it to show the reader characteristic traits, show their likes and dislikes, and also to show how they may feel about situations or events. Example: “Dr. John is a quack and anyone who thinks otherwise is uneducated and therefore has no right to their opinion,” Dr. Harrison said. You can tell from the example that Dr. Harrison doesn’t like Dr. John and believes he’s better than him. His got quite the ego and seems to be kind of a jerk.
3. Use all the senses – I feel like this is an obvious one. Everyone knows the best way to show the reader is to give them all the information they need to set the scene. Part of that is portraying the things we take for granted like smells, sounds, sight, tastes, and touch. The sight part is pretty easy, it’s the other four that we sometimes have to think about within our stories because we, as writers, have to create them.
Example: “The smell of pumpkin spice wafted through the air as I walked down main street. A chill ran down my spine as the wind picked up prompting me to zip up my coat and then swiftly tuck my hands into my pockets.”
Those are just a few ways to show within your writing and I hope that they help you. They have definitely helped me, though I still need to practice.
While I believe that showing is extremely important in creative writing, there is a time and place for telling. It’s all in the way you present the “telling” parts that will make the difference. In my opinion, you can drop short excerpts of “telling” or “information”, but not large portions becuase they feel like info dumps or information overload to your readers. If you are unsure, the best thing to do is ask for feedback.
What ways/methods do you use to “show” your readers your story? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!