Banishing the Scene Stealer: Show, Don't Tell

Let’s just jump right in. Think of our stories as movies. How do we convey the same excitement and garner the same involvement from our readers? By showing instead of telling. Here’s an example of telling:

The two people had just met – or so it seemed. They exchanged words. It was obvious that she was furious with him as she turned her back and started to walk away. Suddenly, he wrapped his arms around her waist, pulled her around to face him, and suctioned his lips to hers. The crowd went wild.

Sound interesting? Obviously there’s some interest between these two characters, right? What about this one?

“H-hi.” Her voice wavered a bit as she stood facing him.
“Hey.” He smiled tentatively. “H-how are you?”
She took a deep breath, steadied herself, and plunged. “How am I?” She kept her voice low. This was nobody’s business but theirs. “I am pissed. That’s how I am. Do you really think I planned this? That I wanted this? You landed on my turf, did God only knows what to me with your, your unreal green eyes,, disappeared, and now you, you, you think you can just walk away?…Oh! Go back wherever in hell you came from!” Iris took a step back from him. She had to get away and forget about all of this.
One moment she was turning to walk away, the next she was flush against him.Gideon. She opened to him instinctively as he foraged her mouth – a searing kiss of ownership. So he didn’t want to walk away after-all. Good. Right now she just wanted more of this.
Somewhere, she heard the dull echo of a crowd cheering and opened her eyes. That’s when she remembered she was about to allow Gideon to have his way with her at the observatory with 30 pairs of middle school eyes bearing witness to her madness.
                                                                                  Excerpt from draft of The Alerians: Gideon

Same story, different style. The first paragraph is telling, and although it’s not the worst telling incident I’ve seen, it’s still a no-no. Whenever we can show instead of tell, using dialogue, more action, etc., that’s better writing. Long narrative is dull and breaks the flow of the story. A little tip that I like to use is to think of your novel, novella, or short as a movie. Within the movie there are scenes and within each scene there are acts. Telling instead of showing is like having a narrator step into the scene in the middle of an act and start telling you what’s happening. We want our readers to see, hear, smell, and feel our characters as much as possible, and as writers we draw them into the story through dialogue, action, and minimal description or narrative.         



V.R. Leavitt said…
Great post...I know this is something I definitely struggle with sometimes.
Cheryl said…
Showing versus telling is something I've always struggled with. Practice helps.

Thanks for sharing.
Calisa Rhose said…
Even though I can tell my cps what not to d, or how to fix it- I can't always seem to see this within my own writing. Thanks for this!
Dariel Raye said…
Thanks for your comments, Ladies! Actually, I use that tip about the movies because I get impatient and want to rush through with narrative, or I want to tell the reader everything at once. Like Cheryl said, practice helps.