show don’t tell

Show Don't Tell
This is one of the foundational rules of fiction, which is saying something. There aren’t many rules, and the few that exist can be broken as often as you like provided you do it the right way. This one, however, is rarely worth ignoring. The vast majority of the time it’s infinitely better to show than to tell.

Chekhov‘s quote explains the difference between showing and telling nicely. It’s hardly ever necessary to just blurt out basic feelings, thoughts and descriptions. You can almost always nest them in something more interesting that allows the reader to see what you’re conjuring. Telling is spoon-feeding. Showing is more like painting a picture and letting the reader watch as your brush flits around the canvas, each new stroke bringing the full picture into clearer view.

But there’s more to it than that, really. One of the hard parts of writing fiction is dealing with exposition. Exposition, the who, what, when and where of your story, is necessary information, but can so easily become boring. However, if you elect to show me the setting instead of just telling me, I’m far less likely to find it tedious. And you can show all kinds of things: characters’ moods and assumptions, the setting, the time of day, the weather, you name it.

Granted, if you’ve been writing fiction for any length of time, this is a 101 kind of tip. I find that I need reminders like this for myself from time to time. I forget the basics. Maybe you do, too. If that’s the case, make it a point to show and not tell in the next few days/weeks of your writing and see if it doesn’t make a difference.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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