Show, don’t tell is a writing technique used to describe what is going on versus narrating it. Make the reader “see” what’s happening. You “show” through descriptions and detail instead of summarizing all that happened. Sometimes there are instances where you want to describe something really quick in one sentence, and of course, narration would be a good use there, but otherwise you should always show. Always always show. Be there in the moment with your characters. Take your time and write it out, don’t just summarize. The worst thing an author can do is overuse narrative. We want to engage our readers not bore them to sleep.
Take this statement:
He was a good king.
This is telling. By telling the readers how something is they are forced to trust the narrator, and suppose the narrator is unreliable or bias…it just causes problems. Instead show this statement. Show that the king is good. Does he go into town and personally greet the people? How is he a noble king? Does he fix any and all problems for his people? Does he put them first?
Show what he does to be considered a ‘good king’. Otherwise the reader will just have to trust the statement that ‘he is a good king’…now imagine the ‘he’ I’m talking about is really King Joffrey from A Game of Thrones. See why it’s better to show vs tell? Not all narrators are reliable. If you show the readers what the character does vs spoon-feed them, they get a chance to make up their own minds on whether or not a character is ‘good’ or ‘evil’ or ‘foolish’ or whatever it may be.
If you show it right, the reader will get it. Have confidence in them, and don’t over state a fact. Don’t tell something you’ve just shown because then it’s repetitive, and, like I said, give the reader some credit. They’ll get it.
Anne Lamott is the queen of show, don’t tell. Buy and read Bird by Bird; darn it, add it to your collection already! It’s a must-have writing book!