Balance Showing and Telling in Writing

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How to balance show vs. tell in writing. Know when to use showing and telling in fiction.

"Show, don’t tell" is one of the most common "rules" writers hear. This is often given as a classic writing rule because many beginning writers do too much telling when they should be showing.

"Show, don’t tell" isn’t that simple. It is excellent advice—most of the time—unless used too much, used in situations where it hurts more than helps, and if it is applied too broadly. The key to "show, don’t tell" is finding the balance between showing and telling and knowing when, why, and how to use each effectively.

  • How to Find the Balance Between Showing and Telling in Writing
  • Understand the differences between the two.
  • Know how each should be used.
  • Understand the strengths and weaknesses of each.
  • Know if there is an advantage to using one or the other.
  • How is Showing Defined?
  • Intimacy level: close and personal.
  • Dramatizing. Using detailed imagery to allow readers to easily visualize a character or situation.
  • Making a reader feel the character’s experiences.
  • Working with the immediate emotional and physical actions and experiences of the characters.
  • Direct and indirect thoughts and dialogue.
  • How is Telling Defined?
  • Intimacy level: distant and impersonal.
  • Supplying information.
  • Summarizing events that aren’t important and don’t need detailed imagery.
  • Setting a scene or explaining a situation to further the plot or characterization.

3 comments

Excellent post. I wish more writers would pay special attention to the last part ‘when telling is better than showing’.

Too much showing of unnecessary events and insignificant details has ruined many a good book for this reader.

Testing WP comment feature after upgrade.

This is something I struggle with. The last section ‘when telling is better than showing’ is going to be something I will come back to over and over to try to help with this. Thank you.

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