Showing vs. Telling

When I started out writing, I was lost with the concept of showing and not telling. Of course I was showing. I had said it didn’t I? The words were right there.

It wasn’t until I saw an example online that finally cleared everything up. Looking back, showing vs. telling is still one of the hardest things to learn for writers.

Why should you learn this?

Showing brings your story to life in a way that telling just can’t. Whenever an author tells, something has been skipped. Showing affects pacing. It emerges your reader into the story. Showing keeps your reader in the story so they can forget where they really are.

Let’s talk Harry Potter

Almost everyone has read or seen Harry Potter. For this reason, I love to use samples from J.K. Rowling.

Do you remember Tom Riddle’s diary? Or the pensieve in Dumbeldore’s office. Voldemort said it himself.

“Can you tell me about the Chamber of Secrets?” Harry writes in the diary.

“No,” Voldemort replies. “But I can show you.”

What happens next? Voldemort pulls Harry right into the pages of the diary. He is there. He witnesses the look on Tom Riddle’s face when Tom looks at the dead girl. We see Dumbledore stare down at Tom as he asks, “Is there something you would like to tell me, Tom?”

This is showing. Showing kept us in the story.

How different would the story have been if Tom Riddle had said, “Yes. I will tell you about the Chamber of Secrets. Fifty years ago, I found Hagrid housing an acromantula in Hogwarts. It killed some girl in the bathroom.”  The end. When an author tells, readers can sense that we’ve missed something.

Crime mystery shows and novels tell you what happened. They spend the rest of the book/movie trying to find what they missed. We would find the girl in the bathroom. We hear the investigators say, “Girl. In her teens. Found her dead in the bathroom. From the look of things, I’d say something scared her to death.”

They would investigate the school children.

“What can you tell me about the girl in the bathroom?”

“It was Myrtle,” Tom would say. “I don’t know much…But I did see Hagrid with an acromantula in the dormitory.”

By the end of the mystery, we have the full picture. If we’re lucky, the movie/television show goes back and shows us what did happen.

Want another example of showing vs. telling? Have a look at Boondock Saints. The first ten minutes of the movie is a perfect example of showing and telling. The investigators all standing around talking about a serial smasher? Telling. Conner ripping the toilet out of the floor and dropping it off the roof to save his brother? Showing.


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