The Writer’s Trap Door. You never see it coming, then “Swoosh”—you are down in the writing dungeon and your words are lost forever.
“Oh, so very right!”
“Well, hurry up and give it to me!”
“What? the lost words?”
“No, stupid, the trap door! What is the trap door?”
It is…hmm, should I really be telling you this? OK, it is falling into the trap of showing, rather than telling.
First, a definition: “Show, don’t tell is one of the most frequently given pieces of advice among writers. But just like “write what you know” and “write every day,” it can be difficult to follow — especially if you don’t really know what it means! Luckily, we’re here to show you exactly what this involves. We’ll explain the various benefits of “showing” in writing, and provide plenty of helpful examples.
Show, don’t tell is a writing technique in which story and characters are related through sensory details and actions rather than exposition. It fosters a style of writing that’s more immersive for the reader, allowing them to “be in the room” with the characters.
In his most commonly repeated quoted, Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
In short: showing illustrates, while telling merely states. Here’s a quick example of showing versus telling:
Showing: As his mother switched off the light and left the room, Michael tensed. He huddled under the covers, gripped the sheets, and held his breath as the wind brushed past the curtain.
Telling: Michael was terribly afraid of the dark.” [from the reedsy blog here]
But, why am I telling you this? Because, even though I have written two full novels, I still have to watch out for the “showing, not telling” trap! No writer is immune and, after many rounds of editing and beta reader feedback, I still missed un important chapter ending that…you guessed it…fell down the trap door! I am ashamed to share it here, but you can work out which is better:
A. There was a disturbance among the ranks and Boreas went pale.. He rose from his makeshift throne and thrust out his trident, defending himself.
“Sailor, you can’t do that!” he yelled. But it was no use.
B. What happened next shocked them all.
Yes, A is a better “showing” than the “telling” example in B! I hope you don’t mind me telling you all this?