What is to stress on and what is to pass over lightly determines the success of a story. 'Show, don't tell' is an excellent advice; however, finesse is in knowing when it is right to show and when it is right to tell. 'Don't tell' part of the advice does not apply to all the aspects in the story, and neither does the 'show' part of the advice.
First, let us define what telling is and what showing can be. Telling is exposition. If
a writer says, The people of China used drums in the opening ceremonies of the
Olympics, he is telling.
Showing is detail, using the senses, and if possible, action and dialogue. Showing
needs to be suggestive enough for a reader to see the images in his mind's eye. The writer
is showing, if he says, At the beginning of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics in
China, 2008 drummers hammered, thumped, pulsated, and pounded on their drums, as
their drums lit up like an LED panel showing Chinese sayings, alphabet patterns, and
numbers. The drummers kept smiling while their motions created fluidity to match the
changing lights, colors, and designs.
Here is another example.
Joan waited patiently is telling.
Joan relaxed in the armchair in the waiting room, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam
cup. A woman in tight jeans and red tee-shirt trudged in and sat at the edge of a chair.
"They take so long, making us wait," she complained. Joan smiled. "I don't mind. I'd
rather they took their time to fix my car perfectly." is showing.
A fairly accurate rule of thumb for 'show, don't tell' advice is this: the writer needs
to show the events that matter for the main storyline. For example, if the story is about an
event that happens between two teachers in a school setting, the writer does not need to
show the students' parents' daily life or the principal's financial problems. The story,
however, would demand the showing of the confrontations, rivalries, and friendships
between the teachers.
In addition, the writer has to be sure about what he wants to show, and also, if what
he is showing presents what he means to show. A writer may write a scene to show one
aspect of the story; however, if the scene shows something else or is ambiguous in some
way, 'showing' loses its effect, and this unintentional ambiguity results in sounding vague.
Then, too much showing may interfere with the pace and the fluidity of the story.
Sometimes, no matter how much action and imagery is conveyed, if the right pace is not
there, the story fails.
Although both showing and telling communicate the same meaning, if showing is
successful, the writer makes his point by creating mental images and involving the reader
in the story more deeply. A writer needs to be in control of all the tools he uses, and
'show, don't tell' is one of those tools. Advanced writers make use of both showing and
telling without relying on either one of these tools totally.
About the Author:
Joy Cagil is an author on http://www.Writing.Com which is a site for Fiction