Show, don’t tell. —Almost Every Writing Teacher On Earth
“Show, don’t tell” is one of those writing rules that are so pervasive I hesitate to even offer it, even when a scene is lagging and clearly needs to do more work in the showing. E.L. Doctorow claimed, “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader - not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon,” and he’s got a point—writing is an opportunity to capture the mind and attention of the reader so completely that they actually experience the action as if they were there. I remember reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as a child and being so overwhelmed by Aslan’s death that I cried uncontrollably. The room felt dark, even though it was light out. I had been rained upon.
Telling gets a bad rap.
The guideline I like to offer my students is that if you’re going to tell (and sometimes you’ll need to do so to convey setting details, to denote the passage of time, to convey essential information, and so on) the telling must be interesting. In many ways, telling is the opportunity to experiment with voice, keenly observations, or poetic language, because these things can elevate the kind of telling that makes people yawn and close your book.
Most of the stories that have been handed down through centuries in the form of myths, legends, and fairy tales, are pure telling. It’s a form that we internalize from infancy, and it truly can work…as long as there’s art in the telling.
If you’re feeling as if there’s a moment in your novel that you’re struggling to show, why not experiment with telling it in the most captivating way possible? It can accomplish a lot. After all, we don’t always want to be rained upon. Sometimes, we need to just assess where we are and take a breath.