When to Show and Tell
One of the most important rules of creative writing is the principle of “show, don’t tell.” Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you need to write in a manner that allows the reader to experience the story. To do this, you must show, not tell your reader what is going on in the story. Instead of writing expositions, summaries, and descriptions, you allow the reader to experience the story through a character’s actions, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings. This article explains how to show and when to tell the reader what is going on in the story.
Showing the Reader
To show the reader, you must dramatize the story. When you dramatize your story, you allow the reader to experience the story through the actions, thoughts, feeling, and dialogue of the characters within the story. By dramatizing the story, the reader becomes an eye witness.
For most storytelling, you will want to dramatize what the characters or people in the story are feeling, thinking, and doing. Here is how to dramatize your story:
- Provide meaningful dialogue.
- Include concrete, specific, vivid details.
- Describe how the character/person is behaving.
- Describe what the character/person is thinking.
- Describe what the character/person is feeling.
Telling the Story
To tell your story is to narrate the story. You tell the story when you do the following:
- Use the verb “was”.
- Use declarative sentence.
- Provide information.
- Summarize parts of the story.
- Describe part of the story.
- Explain part of the story.
There are times when you will only want to tell the reader what is happening in the narrative. For instance:
- To summarize an event or experience.
- To provide insignificant information.
- To provide mundane information.
- To move quickly from one scene or experience or event to another.
- To refer back to something that has already been explained in depth.
The assailant hit the woman with his fist.
The attacker hammered the woman repeatedly with his bloody fist. As he plunged his fist into her contorted face, he screamed, “I hate you! You are the devil!”
Most of the time, you will want to dramatize your story by showing the reader what is happening in the story. When you dramatize your story, you make it more interesting in the eyes of the reader.
For more information on “Showing, Not Telling”, see the following:
- “The Art and Craft of Storytelling” by Nancy Lamb
- “The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing” by Alice Laplante