What Do You Mean ‘Show Don’t Tell’?

I am exhausted by several common writing mantras: don’t use adverbs, show don’t tell, etc. Whenever those rules wear on me too much, I revisit Roseann Biederman’s excellent article ‘Showing vs. Telling in Your Writing’.The post features an excerpt from Jeff Gerke’s book ‘The First 50 Pages’ and provides refreshingly simple examples of telling and showing in writing.

Unlike Gerke, I am not diametrically opposed to telling. In fact, telling the reader can often be be necessary. But I am only confident breaking writing ‘rules’ when I know why they exist in the first place. A talented writer can break the rules all that she wants. A less experienced writer may not be able to follow the rules to begin with. When I become lazy in my writing, I appreciate having a reminder of how to show information, attributes, quirks.

So here is to breaking the rules and, occasionally, to following them.


4 thoughts on “What Do You Mean ‘Show Don’t Tell’?

  1. I think most rules are really warnings, “It’s harder to write well if you step outside these lines”, but one instructor told me “Good writing is about understanding the rules, so that you only ever break them intentionally, to convey meaning.”
    Ender’s Game is one of my favorite novels, and I would categorize that as mostly telling via summary, which helps to keep the story internal, focusing on the protagonist’s isolation from everyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

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