Well, we've all heard it before. Show, don't tell. Hell, even Elsa from Frozen 2 is a proud supporter of this concept. After all, she sings Show Yourself, not Tell Yourself.
In fact, now that I think about it, that song is such a fantastic example of showing instead of telling.
I am nervous. [telling]
Every inch of me is trembling, but not from the cold. [showing]
Wow. Well done, Elsa.
Anyways, I digress. Let's get back to the main point.
Everyone says showing is better than telling. Most of the time, I agree with that notion. But why? Why do reviewers always go on and on and on about it? What's the big deal? They both get the same thing across -- why is one better than the other?
Well, here is why showing is better than telling:
- It is immersive. By showing, the readers are brought into the action. They can envision it more clearly, and they can empathise with it.
- It helps with characterisation. When a character simply says 'they are angry', they sound rather childish and two-dimensional. Also, by being more subtle about characterisation and having characters respond differently even though they are feeling the same emotion, it allows you to show the reader how they are distinct from one another.
- Tone and mood. Showing requires more detail, and this detail can gear your readers to see a scene a certain way. For example, 'the house was creepy'-- if you include gothic and ghostly imagery, the reader may feel like the house is haunted. By just saying 'the house was creepy', it doesn't feel nearly as convincing.
Those three reasons basically sum up why Elsa sings Show Yourself instead of Tell Yourself. While there are some instances where telling is more effective, I will discuss that a bit later.
But first, what exactly is showing instead of telling?
Let's use song lyrics again to help us out.
1. Showing is when you describe the action. [Aladdin]
Rather than glossing over it, you make the reader feel it. You take them on the journey with you. You show them how they would feel. For example:
We went on a magic carpet ride. [telling]
We went soaring, tumbling, freewheeling through an endless diamond sky. [showing]
The latter is more visual. We see the tumbling, the soaring. We see the diamond sky. We feel like we are there with the characters.
2. Showing can add stylistic effect. [Beauty and the Beast]
By describing something a certain way, you depict it in a way that is unique to you and your story. You can show the depth of certain emotions, and it can add style and tone to your writing. You can do this by adding figurative language.
It was an old story dated back to 600BC. [telling]
It was a tale as old as time, a tune as old as song. [showing]
Of course, if it's important for the reader to know that the story was released on that date, then do tell that. However, as shown in the example, it sounds more whimsical and less jarring when showed. It gives the reader an idea of how old it is without having to explicitly tell them.
3. Showing can be used to persuade the reader. [Cars]
Okay, so, authors can make some pretty controversial statements in their stories. And, if we really want to convince the reader of our point, then we're going to have to show it to them as our evidence. Like, if I'm going to tell my reader that life is like a highway, then I'm going to need to show them how it is like a highway.
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