Confused about “Show Versus Tell”?
Join the boat with many other writers. Show Versus Tell is one of the most important concepts of fiction writing. It’s taught in most writing classes and it’s heavily stressed in training.
“You’ve got to SHOW not TELL”, they say over and over.
But what does that mean in the real world?
If you are going to tell your readers about this woman, you might say, “Nikki, a beautiful blonde woman, flirted with her eyes”.
That doesn’t do much for your reader. It doesn’t really evoke a picture in their mind of Nikki, her smile, the look in her eyes, her jewelry, her hair, or anything else. It just says she’s beautiful and blonde.
For some characters, a brief description like that is appropriate. Just a quick note might be enough. The frequent concern with showing is that it takes a lot longer to show something than it does to tell it. “The coals were hot” is certainly a lot shorter than describing the look of the coals so that the reader gets the idea that it’s hot.
I asked a few writers to attempt to show this lady in a scene. Here is what they came up with.
The crowd moved passed the decorative woman. Her smile spread across her face as she gave the camera a flirty look. Her ethnic jewelry jangled as she moved about. The smell of confection and sweat filled the air. – Rebecca
Her many crystal and brass ornaments tinkled as she twirled to face me. The mischief in her sparkling eyes challenged anyone not to laugh with her.
“What did you say?” she said cocking her head, her eyebrow raised. “Did you call me ‘honey’? I’m not that sweet, I promise you.”
She tossed her dark curly hair as she turned to go.
I watched her leave, shaking my head. Her many scarves swished as she undulated away from me. “Why don’t they teach us how to talk to women in school?” I asked myself. “That would probably be a lot more useful than geometry.” – Bonnie
The woman was a collage of exotic features with brass and gem jewelry plaited into her dusky bangs and brightly colored flowers tucked into her dreadlocks. Her bronze flesh was smooth and dotted with small ink designs along her brow and chin… – Thomas
As her smile burned brighter than her jewels did, I noticed that she was the angel I have prayed for to come forth. – T.C.H
Malati broke off her dancing and came to greet us with a sideways smile, her white teeth, and dark eyes seeming friendly, but with an air of distrust. The facial tattoos and silver jewelry framed her face, highlighting her youth and good health. Wisps of brown hair cusped her cheeks and a blue flower protruded from her bun. “Why have you come here?” she asked. “You know my father will have you killed.” – David
I stopped dead in my tracks, faced with an exotic vision. A young girl with one pearly tooth amidst the perfect rack of ivory drew my eyes. She was richly clad in tribal garb that drew the eye to every facet of her beauty. One to be wary of, I thought. She is used to bending men to her desires, then spitting them out like an annoying fig seed. – David
She smiles to her mother as she finishes adorning her youngest daughter for her right of passage ceremony. Her eyes show her trepidation as she prepares to face the crowd and walk down the aisle to meet her destiny. – Brandi
Show Versus Tell
Don’t Understand How It Works?