Friday, 10 May 2013


I've been trying to explain the difference between showing and telling when writing, but someone said 'what's wrong with telling?' Hard to counter when we all refer to 'telling a story.'

I see it as to do with the relationship between the writer and reader. Do you want to be the kind of omniscient writer who tells all? Or do you want to drop a few clues and make your readers work things out for themselves? Which would you prefer as a reader, to be given long accounts of the action and descriptions of the characters, or would you rather make up your own mind about what is going on, and what kind of characters you are reading about?

'Telling' makes us aware that someone (i.e. the author) is pulling the strings of the characters and making them dance to his or her tune.

'Showing' is letting the action unfold in such a way that we readers can enter fully into the story, to live through it with the character(s) and through their eyes.

Of course a judicious mix is possible. It's hard to write a story without at least some telling, and a story that is all show can end up being quite perplexing. Despite the fact that all fiction writing is based on illusion, the more real we can make it the better so far as I am concerned. For the most part I think 'showing' what is going on comes across more realistically.

But in the end it is all down to the narrative voice. In fiction, as in life, a long-winded bore is tedious company and we all want lively conversation and genuine warmth from others. As writers we must strive to be both entertaining and respectful to our readers, crediting them with the intelligence to read between the lines and make up their own minds about the worlds and characters we create.

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