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Debunking Writing Myths: “Showing Is Always Better than Telling”

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

You should always make sure that you’re always writing in an active, showing style, rather than just telling the reader what’s happening. Showing is always better than telling in fiction.

Sometimes, telling is much better than showing.
. . . . .

If you’ve spent any time over on the Writing Series Index page, you’ve probably read this series:
Showing vs. Telling (January/February 2007)
Showing vs. Telling—An Introduction
Showing vs. Telling—The First Date
Showing vs. Telling—Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Showing vs. Telling—In the Eye of the Beholder
Showing vs. Telling—Feeeeeeeeeelings . . .
Showing vs. Telling—Do You See What I See?
Showing vs. Telling—Do You Smell What I Taste?
Showing vs. Telling—The Sixth Sense
Showing vs. Telling—Puppets, Cartoon Characters, or Live Action?

which you should have time to explore, because today’s post is going to be rather short . . . because I’m going to show you why telling is sometimes better than showing:


    She ran to the car and fit her key into the keyhole in the door of the dark green Pontiac G6 coupe. The lock clicked open and she lifted the door handle to yank the door open. She turned and slid her right leg in the car first, her rear-end sliding across the leather seat with ease, drew her left foot in, and slammed the door–in which was the panel holding the controls for the power windows, door locks, mirrors, and driver’s seat adjustments. She poked the key into the ignition, turned it to the right, and engaged the engine. With her foot on the brake—because the car required the brake be engaged to be able to put it into gear—she pressed the button on the gear shifter with her right thumb and jerked the stick down to the R-position. Without looking behind her, she took her foot off the brake and positioned it on the accelerator and pressed down hard. The car backed out of the space faster than was safe. Once out of the space, she put her foot on the brake again and shifted the car into drive. She stomped her foot on the accelerator and the car lurched forward, tires making a squealing sound against the pavement.
    (Did you make it reading this far? If so, good on ya!)


    She jumped in the car and peeled out of the parking lot.

    . . . . .

The first example is an exaggeration, of course, but I think you get my point. In some instances, we need to give the reader the benefit of the doubt that they understand what it means when we write that the character got in the car and peeled out of the parking lot. Sometimes, it’s okay to tell when it’s the difference between a twelve-word sentence that keeps the action moving and an entire paragraph that brings the action to a screeching halt.

  1. Tuesday, April 5, 2011 3:28 am

    Perfect example! Thanks for the info on what you’ve posted previously. I’ll take a look!


  2. Tuesday, April 5, 2011 10:21 am

    Excellent point, Kaye! It’s easy to fall into the trap of describing in minute detail what can be accomplished better by leaving a bit to the reader’s imagination, don’t you think?


  3. Tuesday, April 5, 2011 3:46 pm

    I got to sentence two of the show piece and couldn’t read on anymore. To tell you the truth, it kind of made me feel stupid, like I needed every detail pointed out in bold letters. I guess that’s a good way to check out writing. If we’re feeling alienated by it, then it’s “telling” us something!


  4. Tuesday, April 5, 2011 5:11 pm

    Super example. I think we sometimes think that we have to write everything out. There is this fantasy that description is beautiful prose. Sometimes, but certainly not in instances like that.

    I remember going through your section on Showing vs. Telling. Great series and it taught me so much. I have to say thank you!


  5. Jill W permalink
    Tuesday, April 5, 2011 5:17 pm

    Great example, Kaye! You made it sound so simple. 🙂 Thanks for posting the links from the Writers Series Index. I’m sure they will be helpful.


  6. Tuesday, April 5, 2011 8:13 pm

    Excellent example! Sometimes there’s TMI! 😉


  7. Seralynn Lewis permalink
    Friday, October 14, 2016 3:58 pm

    I haven’t read through all of the links on this page but I will. 🙂 Funny…but the first thing I thought of was the English exercise. Entitled “How to ….” You picked a subject and had to describe in detail “how to” step by step. I could be way off base here but that’s what went through my mind.



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