One of the most common phrases fiction writers hear is to show, don’t tell. When embarking on the journey of writing fiction we often research various resources to how to improve our skills as a writer. Hearing this constantly must mean it has merit. Right?
In essence, you should always write your first draft fluently, without too many constraints or structured guidance. Write what you know, how you feel, how you imagine. You can always go back later and apply elements of writing to your manuscript to improve it. One such element is show, don’t tell.
When applying the show, don’t tell concept, you as the authors does much more than just tell the reader something about a situation or character. The writer reveals the character, or situation, by what that character says and does. Showing can be done by describing the actions of the character, revealing them more through dialogue and many writers will use the five senses when feasible to help even further vividly paint the scene for the reader.
‘Show, don’t tell’ Examples
Here are some couple of examples below for you to see it in action.
The TELL in show, don’t tell
Franklyn was uncertain. What did they mean by show, not tell?
The SHOW in show, don’t tell
Franklyn went to the Google search page on his silver MacBook Pro and began typed into the search bar ‘book publishing advice in Australia’. He let out a defeating sigh as he hit search, realising he was now seeking professional assistance. As Google worked its magic, Franklyn recalled the feedback from the recent writers’ group meeting he attended and the constant commentary on how he needed to show, not tell. What did this even mean? Rather than showing his lack of knowledge, he thought it would be better to do some research and gain some expert advice.
Fifteen years ago, Franklyn began writing the first story in his epic fantasy series. Although he had inspiration to tell the story he believed in, his friends were dismissive when he bought up the subject of becoming an author. Now unsure in his own ability to write and create a story of value, Franklyn’s writing suffered. This all was about to change.
“Good luck with that,” Jeremy said as he drew his attention back to his iPhone rather than his friends’ announcement that he wanted to become an author. Deflated, Franklyn held his gaze at Jeremy for several seconds before walking back to his desk in their shared apartment lounge.
“Why should I bother?” Franklyn mumbled under his breath. Faintly catching the sounds, Jeremy called from the lounge.
“Did you say something Frank?”
“Huh? Ah, nah. All good.” He replied tentatively.
Jeremy had stood up and walked into the kitchen where Franklyn was staring at the static screen of his first draft manuscript.
“Hey, check this out.” Jeremy instructed and put his phone in Franklyn’s hands. On the screen was a link to a publishing company located in his home town offering free consultations to people. “Maybe you should give them a call,” suggested Jeremy.
Franklyn’s anxiety immediately faded as he realised his best friend did care about his dream. He looked up at him with a smile and thanked him. Jeremy returned the smile and placed his hand on his shoulder in support.
‘Show, don’t tell’ conclusion
Both these examples illustrate the power of ‘showing.’ It allows the reader to follow you as a writer, into the moment you have created. By being more specific it helps to make your writing come alive.
When we ‘show, don’t tell’ we dramatise a scene in a story to help the reader forget that they are reading, to help the reader get to know the characters, to make the writing more interesting.
We want our readers to paint the canvas; to have the movie version of what they are reading rolling through their imagination. This is how we hold their attention, create a ‘page-turner’, and it is all done through ‘show, not tell’.