Showing vs Telling – Explained

I have touched on this subject before, but I feel it is such a large topic, which can be interpreted differently by different people as well.

Writers around the world struggle with the ‘rule’ SHOW vs TELL. So, what does it really mean? To put it simple; it means that you need to SHOW the reader what is happening, not TELLING them what is happening. Simple example:

She felt anxious. (Telling)

She felt her pulse increase, sweat formed on her forehead. (Showing).

But! This is where many writers argue, as some believe that even the second example is ‘telling’. This is because the second example includes ‘she felt’, which they feel is a ‘telling’ phrase. I personally do not agree with this 100%. The reason is because I have done some research on many best-selling novels, and this is a very common occurrence. Big name authors use the second example all the time!

I think that us writers can sometimes be a bit hard on ourselves. We put too many boundaries around us, making writing a novel feel like hard work, as opposed to fun.

So, how would the above example look if it was even more showing?

Something like this:

Her heartbeat pulsated within her as she took a breath. Sweat dripped down from her forehead.

I agree, this example is more engaging, and created an even more intense picture in the readers mind. I don’t, however, feel that this kind of intense ‘showing’ is necessary throughout the entire novel. It can get boring, and slow, if all feelings are explained in such detail.

Sometimes, less is more, and the reader will appreciate the story moving along in a steady pace.

That being said, this example is a very minor one. I think the most important thing about showing vs telling is when it is misused in dialogue. Here’s an example:

“What are you doing?” he yelled, angrily.

Please, delete ‘angrily’. Do not ‘tell’ the reader he yelled this angrily, the reader understands this. The reader is YOU. You read books, right? Would you not understand that this guy is angry? If not, add in him punching a wall, or kicking a bin, anything!

I might come back to this topic yet again in the future, as the rules and opinions on this matter is ever changing! But I want to leave you with the confidence of knowing that YOU have your OWN STYLE. Do not feel trapped within walls of rules. Don’t take all feedback you receive as facts.

Lastly, have fun!

© Melina Wedin 2018

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