Tuesday, July 3, 2012

showing versus telling

It's curious but there seem to be different "levels" in the art of writing. As kids we all start out telling stories. Think about those scary stories told around the campfire: "...and then the couple slammed the gas pedal and zoomed out of the woods. But when they got home they found a hook hanging on the door handle."

When a person has been writing for a while and started to go to workshops and critiques they're taught they should show, not tell in their writing. One of the excellent Seton Hill University Writing Popular Fiction teachers, Maria V. Snyder has a really nice discussion of Show Vs. Tell on her website. According to Maria, there are five techniques a fiction writer can use to avoid telling the reader:

  • Using Point of View (POV)
  • Using dialogue
  • Using all the senses
  • Using picture nouns and action verbs
  • Writing in scenes
Go read the article; it's great. I'll wait.
Wasn't that good? I agree with Maria that it is extremely important to show the story in fiction. This is because fiction is the only medium in which the reader becomes the character(s). And you can't do that without showing.

However, once you learn the writing rules, once you learn how to show, I think it's okay to do a little telling.
Some of my critique partners disagree. They say you should never tell. I think they're still stuck on the "Show, don't tell." rule.

What do you think?


  1. As writers mature, gaining knowledge of and confidence in their craft, and read, read, read excellent writing/literature, the importance of "Show, Don't Tell" fades because they use other techniques, as you've mentioned. The only time recently I've seen an advanced writer fall into the SDT trap was when his plot stalled and he didn't know the direction the particular scene was taking; the characters were wallowing around, like their writer. To me, that's OK because it was only a draft and I knew once he discovered where he wanted to go with the story, he would climb out of the trap.

  2. I agree, RenataH. And I like your terminology "the SDT trap."
    Although, we have to be careful not to call it the STD trap... :)
    Thanks for stopping by!