Show, don’t tell

Showing a point rather than just telling it is one of the characteristics of good writing — whether it be fiction or nonfiction.  This has come up recently with a client.  It has definitely come up in the past with students.

In journalism having facts to back up statements is what is important.  Those background facts are often what will show a point rather than just telling the writer that something is so.  Here’s an example:

Telling: More women have been diagnosed with interstitial cystitis than men.
Showing: Of the approximately 1 million Americans who have interstitial cystitis, 90 percent of them are female.

While both statements convey the same point, the second one is more effective.  It shows why the point is so.  It’s more specific.  It gives the reader more information.  It’s just better writing.

The same is true in fiction writing as well.  The best books I’ve read are by authors who are good at showing versus telling.  Off the top of my head, the best authors I think of who do this are R.A. Salvatore, J.K. Rowling, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.  They give us characters and story lines that we are drawn into because they show us what is happening.   Here’s an example:

Telling: Alana was nervous as she waited for her interview.
Showing: Alana had bitten her fingernails nearly to the nub as she sat, tapping her foot, waiting for her interview to begin.

Again, the same point is conveyed by the “showing” sentence paints a clearer picture for the reader.  We not only pick up on the fact that Alana is nervous, but we can better see her being nervous.

Think about the difference between showing and telling next time you pick up a book.  If you become enthralled with it and transported into that fictional world, I can almost guarantee you are reading an author who shows more than he or she tells.

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