Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Show Vs. Tell Part 1: Allowing Your Readers To Experience Your Story

Almost every author in this century should know by now to avoid telling in stories. So why is it that so many of the books I read seem as if the author has ignored this rule? Perhaps there's a misunderstanding about the term show and tell. Based off of what I've been told, the difference between showing your readers the story and telling them about it is the difference between telling someone about the amazing trip you went on or allowing them to experience it them selves - it's the difference between telling your readers about the story in your imagination and showing them why it's so great.

Why is it so crucial that now-a-day writers should show instead of tell? Because, people don't have as much patience as they used to. We would rather be involved in a story that's fast-paced instead of taking up our time trying to imagine the setting and all the other details. We're generally lazy - we'd like to be shown what's happening with no effort invloved rather than to try hard to imagine it for ourselves. And it's the author's job to write in a way that isn't complicated - write in a way so that the reader will hardly know the difference between watching a movie and reading a book.

However, there are many layers to showing and telling that I'm starting to learn more about. Of course, there is the obvious - using action verbs instead of adjectives and adverbs, replacing said tags with character movement and expression. But there is also power, I've realized, beneath the general showing and telling that can make the difference within your story. It can make the difference within the reader also.
I'm currently reading the book "The Art & Craft of Writing Christian Fiction" by Jeff Gerke. In it, he gives one of the greatest analogies of what show and tell is. Here's what he says:

"You must cease thinking of yourself as a fireside tale-teller and begin thinking of yourself as a filmmaker. Now the scenario is changed. Now you're limited to camera and microphone to convey your story. Now you have to dress your characters and light your scenes and compose your shots. Now you are forced to show the story through action, scene, and dialogue."
Yes, there can be power in writing a story as if you're a filmmaker or telling it like you're a fireside tale-teller. It's only when you learn the right techniques will your story go in the direction that you want it to.

Why do you think so many authors continue to ignore this rule?
Are times when authors should be able to "tell"?
What are some other good analogies of what show vs. tell means?


  1. I'm very fond of the film-making analogy because it really helps writers "see" what they're putting on paper. Plus, for a visual person like myself, envisioning a story as a movie (sometimes complete with a soundtrack) can be very helpful in structuring scenes, spotting slow spots, and keeping the story arc front and center.

  2. I'm also more of a visual person. Watching movies and taking notes on what you see, hear, etc. can be a great way to study film-making to help with "showing" in novel-writing.


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