The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Show V Tell

Show v Tell is the most ethereal craft concept to learn for new writers. Show v tell is so elusive that even a search on Amazon for books on the topic brings up very few results, and few of those results appear to be promising. Even Writer’s Digest only has one title available (Showing & Telling by Laurie Alberts, which I have not yet read). There are a few blogs that try to explain show v tell. Some are good, some seem vague. In an attempt to clarify this ambiguous concept, I have put together a few short posts. I hope they will be helpful.

What does Show v Tell mean? In its simplest explanation, it is the comparison of writing styles, one of which is written in a way where the action is shown to the reader while the other is written in a way where the action is told to the reader. It might be helpful to think of watching a movie and compare that to sitting around the campfire while hearing a story (oral tradition) on the same topic. Both options can convey the same information, but the information is expressed very differently and the watcher/hearer interacts with the information very differently.

Stories that show the reader are visual stories. The words used to describe events are dramatic, expressive, evocative. Stories that show draw an image for the reader to see in their mind. The reader feels as if they are in the story. All the physical senses are used so the reader can believe the experiences of the characters. The writer is able to convince the reader through detail that what the characters do and say is real, as if the events really happened, and the character really lived.

Back to the movie vs campfire idea. The topic is The Hunchback of Notre Dame. At the campfire, the speaker just tells you, flat out, that that Quasimodo is ugly and that he has a hunchback. But in the movie, nobody says, “That dude is hideous.” But when you watch the movie you know that Quasimodo is ugly because you can see it for yourself. It’s the same information but presented differently.

Showing is visual. Stories that show are interactive in that they force the reader to become involved in the story. The reader participates with the characters and actively judges facts for themselves rather than just passively take information in. But this is just one part of the equation. And how the hell do you do it? I’ll get to that.

Next: More Show V Tell

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