The Best Explanation Of Show Vs. Tell

Every writer knows to show, not tell, but what does that really mean?

Every writer has had a teacher (or friend, or editor, or all three) say the famous line, “Show, don’t tell!” But what does that actually mean? Sometimes it’s easy to point out in other people’s writing when they are telling and not showing, but it’s more difficult to detect in your own writing.

Sometimes, we can even detect certain scenes that have a lot of expository writing and not a lot of action, but sometimes it’s more nuanced than that. What about in dialog? Isn’t that all telling? How can you make your dialog “show, not tell” the reader information?

In the video below, we get some amazing writing advice from freelance editor, Ellen Brock. This has got to be one of the best summaries and explanations of showing vs. telling I’ve ever seen! And I took creative writing classes at the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.

In this video, we get a great example for two really difficult scenes to “show.” The first is a small excerpt of dialog. We see the “telling” version first, and the “showing” version second. Next, Ellen shows us a scene that happens a lot in fantasy, sci-fi, and historical fiction, when you need to desribe a power, ability, or give the reader lots of context. In each case, we see how to “show” the reader what is happening in an engaging way.

Go ahead and watch the video below, even if you think you have the concept of showing, not telling down to a science. I promise you’ll learn something new!