Show vs. Tell

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Another way to write is called “Showing”, instead of “Telling”. In telling, the writer is over-involved with the story and is afraid the reader will not understand him or her if they don’t deliver every piece of information with all the force of a sledge hammer. Here is an example of “telling”:

Lyari (our elf) knew he had to fight the dragon. He was afraid, but he didn’t want to show it, so he covered his fear with a smile of confidence so that his friend, Elora, would not know how afraid he really was, even though he thought she already knew.

Now, if you as a reader find those two sentences uninspiring, I wouldn’t blame you. They are. Instead, one could write it this way (showing):

“You don’t have to fight Nilanth, Lyari,” Elora looked at him, her eyes soft. “No one would blame you if you turn down the challenge.”

Lyari smiled. “I know I don’t have to fight him. But I must. I can’t allow him to kill anyone else like he did . . .” He stopped, his voice choking. “Anyway, do you think I’m a coward?”

“No, no—of course not.”

“Well it sounds like you think I’m frightened of him.” He stood up but his legs felt shaky so he sat down again. “I’m ready for him.”

What images came up in your mind as you read the above exchange? Did it feel more real to you than the one before? In the above conversation the reader clearly understands that Lyari feels fear and uncertainty. Elora sees it too and she is the one who gives him an “out”, but one that his pride will not allow him to accept. There is more depth to this exchange than in merely stating the obvious.

A reader does not wish the writer to insert their presence too much, if at all, into a story, since it takes the reader out of the story, out of the moment. The writer is merely a witness to the situation or event: the recorder of what he or she sees/hears in their head. The job of the characters are to drive the story, and they do not need the help of the author except to write down what is occurring as it happens. If the writer needs more explanation, it can always be done by the POV character as a thought in their head, or dialogue with another character.

In my next blog I will discuss the use of description. How necessary is it in a story? And how much?

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