Show Don’t Tell (But aren’t we telling a story?)

As an amateur creative writer one phrase I constantly get told to make sure I am ‘mastering’ is the show don’t tell rule. Initially the concept of showing in a story or poem seemed slightly confusing, for I thought it was ironic that I was interested in telling stories yet I am forbidden from ‘telling’. However, after being lectured to about the concept, my mind was radically changed.

Show don’t tell is a genius concept. It was naΓ―ve of me to assume I was being told that I wasn’t allowed to tell a story. It’s similar to trying to tell a loved one or a teacher how grateful you are for them and everything they do or have ever done. It’s not going to be translated to the right destination simply telling them, you have to show them. How do you do that? through gesture, tone of voice, emotion, expression etc. You show someone gratitude by doing something slightly unusual, through a characterful gesture. It’s the same case in poetry and prose but just applied in a different context. It’s no use to you or your reader if they are merely given a list of information. You are aiming to persuade, and the only tool you have to craft your rhetoric is language. When you show, you are taking language and using it to incite a visualization, a scene. Make your reader want to engage with your characters, don’t tell them everything they need to know about them so they no longer have a reason to investigate them.

For example:

Telling: “He loved her so much he couldn’t fathom her leaving for work”
Showing: “It was disabling. Before his day even began it was over. Before his brain awoke and engaged, it was dreaming. Her 7:45am departure was the knowledge that a punch in the face was coming, but oblivion of which side it would land upon and at what force”

My 5 Top Tips
1. When using dialogue consider using punctuation to actively make the reader FEEL
2. Use strong verbs and/or phrasal verbs
3. Strategize where you will situate specific details, what needs to be shown at what points?
4. Ask yourself whether you are using your dialogue to merely report and not propel?
5. Use your omniscience wisely, give your reader information in small doses…

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