Monday 4 September 2017

Why You Should Show & Not Just Tell - The Creative Process


I did a video recently on why you should show and tell, but I thought that I would expand on that a little and include a blog post on the subject as well. The video can be found here. I know that if you're a writer you've heard the phrase "show don't tell" probably so many times your eyes glaze over and your head spins. While it's a good idea to do more showing than telling, both actually have their place in writing. While my video went over these points, I thought I should expand a little for those who aren't following me on Youtube.

So here we go, first let's break down what showing is, what telling is, and why you should use both.

Showing is when you evoke emotion through the words. In other words you don't just say someone is angry, you show it in their facial expression, in their body language and all of that. Showing is usually done with pivotal points of the story, to give the reader a chance to take notice, and they will take notice because you're giving them the signs that this is important to the story. So if you're writing a murder mystery and you go into detail about every character they meet, that gives the impression that every single one is important to the plot. It also helps the reader to connect with the protagonists feelings, thoughts, emotions and all of that. It's a very good tool in story telling and it's especially important that you do some showing in your work. Otherwise the book is lifeless and hard to connect with.


Telling is when you don't focus on the details. It can be used for delivering a punch of information as a way to shock the reader. For example, while you would show the emotion, sometimes it is just as valid to deliver a blow. It can be used for many things from scene transitions to things that matter but aren't all the important to the plot or story. For example, talking about people who are background characters that have no purpose in the main plot. Like when your character is on the trail of a killer and talks to someone in passing. You don't need to show that conversation because unless they give you a vital clue, they are not pivotal to the plot. You can't not tell though. Can you imagine a book where every little thing was shown? It would be harder for the reader to discern what matters and what doesn't and you'd be overflowing with unnecessary descriptions.

So, while it's a good idea to show certain scenes, and while it's a good idea to tell certain scenes, both have their places in your work and both should be used in the right kind of scenes. Transitions are never going to be important, so they can be told. A heartbreaking scene can't be told if you want to invoke emotion with the reader, so it should be shown. But the idea is, as a writer, that you learn which scenes are better as shown or told. It may be that it takes you some time to learn that, and it's taken me a lot of time as well, but as you grow as a writer you'll realise that there is a place for both show AND tell in fiction.

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