Monday, October 22, 2012

Show and Tell

Show don't tell! We hear it all the time. But is it true? And what does it mean exactly? What it really says is, "Don't be lazy!" 

Meaning don't say:

Suzie was tired. 

Show us: 

Suzie rubbed at her eyes, trying to focus on the letter, but the soft mattress in the corner kept drawing her attention. 

That was a simple example, but what about when it gets more complicated? Sometimes you have to tell. Sometimes you even have to do both. I've had times when I thought I'd so cleverly (I love to pat myself on the back) shown the MC's feelings when in reality all my betas came back and told me they wanted to know how she/he felt about something that happened. Obviously I wasn't clear enough. So what did I do? Added internal thoughts to the actions. Sometimes even came out and said it.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding how to word things:

  • Was I clear enough with the action alone?
  • Is it important enough of a moment to add thoughts and maybe spend a bit more time showing?
  • If it isn't important, does it slow down the pacing too much to show? Would it flow better to tell?
  • Did adding to it make it redundant? You don't want to repeat yourself or tell the reader you don't trust them to "get" it.
What questions and examples can you add to the list?


  1. Great questions to ask yourself. And I agree, sometimes telling is okay. I see it done all the time in published books.

  2. The last question is tricky. Some readers might get it and others don't. You have to figure out which side of the fence you want to deal with.

    Great post, Lisa!

  3. Love that thought, "Don't be lazy." It's such a great way to think of showing.

  4. these are great points, LG! I think the whole showing/telling is something all writers struggle with. I also think there are times when it's okay to tell not show. But you know. We have to master the rules before we can break them.

    Good stuff~ <3

  5. I know I for sure get caught in the "telling trap." I try not to bore the reader (aka you), but sometimes I need to slow it down a bit and show. And I'm reading a book right now that does plenty of telling. It's a great book, too!

  6. Good questions! I tend to have those redundant phrases throughout my work! Then I edit and take out too much - it's finding that balance that's tough for me!

  7. In August, I attended a writer's conference and one of the sessions was "Show AND Tell." The speaker gave us this great demonstration. He held up a rock. This was the "show." Then, he told various stories about the rock. It was one of those "wow" moments when you realize that sometimes you have to show AND tell.

  8. Love this post! I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks it's okay to "tell" sometimes. Too many writers believe it should be all show, all the time, even though showing isn't always the correct thing to do, despite it often being the correct thing to do.

  9. Sometimes I hate this point. Because sometimes it's more appropriate to tell and sometimes showing leads you astray. Sigh. At least it looks like I'm not alone in that opinion.

  10. But - But - But - it's so much easier to tell. Okay, I'll show with a small dollop of tell on the side.

  11. This is excellent. Showing is so important. There is a time for telling but it is rare and so easy to get wrong!

  12. I think you nailed it with don't be lazy!