A story is a collection of words to present a visual image in a reader’s mind. It’s a movie in written form but with detail a movie could never give. The reader has to create a picture of the story that is vivid enough to keep the reader hooked. It takes the writer being good at showing the story. The writer has to use words that will create that mental movie for the reader.
What is Show?
Show is literally letting the reader see the events instead of telling them about it. Let the reader see that Ann is angry. The writer does that by frowns, creased foreheads, crossed arms, tapping foot. You don’t write, “John was angry.” That is juvenile. The reader is smart enough to pick up on his anger by his actions, body language, or facial expressions.
Pretend your story is a movie. The director doesn’t narrate it as it plays to tell you that someone is angry or is plotting. He shows you through visual effects. It’s more exciting to see the emotion and action instead of being told about it. The reader conjures up the image that is theirs alone and envisions the scene. It becomes alive to them.
What is Telling?
When you tell, you remove imagination. You prevent the reader from stepping into the story. You treat the reader as a child. It is literally telling the reader what is going on instead of showing them. That won’t do. Don’t just tell the reader.
John was angry at Jessica.
That is telling the reader. The reader then has to pause to create the scene in their mind. Is John frowning? Is he yelling? The reader has to form John as angry. Showing goes much deeper. It paints the scene for the reader to see and allows them to enjoy the story instead of trying to create it alone with the author.
John’s eyes narrowed at Jessica as he turned to her stiffly.
Notice how the writer is not telling the reader that John is angry? The reader can actually see that he is angry. Narrowed eyes and a stiff body give the visual clues to his emotions. The reader is now in the story. They can actually see John and his anger.
The Value of Show
By showing, you invite the reader into the story. They become emotional. They embrace the characters and the drama. That gives your story value to the reader. That brings them back for more. That is what you want with your writing.
Telling is lazy writing. It is also a burden on the reader. They have to work too hard to enjoy the story.
Showing allows the writer to paint their story with more than black and grey. They can use all sorts of color in their word choice to bring the scene to life.
You want to give the reader a rich story. That comes from varied color in the story that shows a vibrant scene. When I come across a story that is too bland in color (aka too much telling and not enough showing), I will stop reading and move on to another story.
Don’t make the mistake of too little show. Go over your drafts and give them color that is irristable to readers.