“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
What is “Show, don’t Tell”?
- This writing technique allows the reader to her own experience of the story, instead of being instructed by the author.
- The mental images are created for the reader through dialogue and action, not through elaborate explanation by the author.
- The focus is on well-placed details that can be interpreted by the reader, rather the author feeding her the facts.
- The reader is expected to be an active participant in the narrative process, not a passive recipient of the author’s viewpoint.
Examples of “Show, don’t Tell”
Telling: Lydia did not like sharing. She was selfish.
Show, not Tell: Jane had barely glanced at the doll when Lydia rushed in and snatched at it. Clutching the doll close to her, she stuck out her chin at Jane. “Mine.” She said, firmly.
Telling: The cake was delicious.
Show and Tell: It was a luscious, chocolate cake with melted fudge oozing down the sides. Each bite of the moist, rich slice had her taste buds screaming in delight. Mmmmm, so very good.
Telling: Mrs. Brown was very upset with her noisy class.
Show and Tell: Mrs. Brown walked into the noisy classroom, waving her arms and shouting, “That’s quite enough.”
Why “Show, don’t Tell”?
Showing creates a clearer picture of the setting and the action in the mind of the reader. And when a character is revealed by what he thinks, says and does; it allows for a greater connect to form between the reader and the character. The more empathy the reader feels, the greater her involvement with the story and greater the likelihood of her staying with the story to the end.
So a children’s writer should evoke feelings and emotions in the readers through vivid writing and strong use of dialogues and actions. It is not a writer’s job to tell the reader what she should feel.
When not to use “Show, don’t Tell”
While this technique works wonderfully in the dramatic scenes and in the meaty part of the story, it is certainly not to be applied to every scene of the story. This will drown the narration in descriptions and adjectives and water down the impact of the important scenes in the story. And of course, it can make the text heavy and exhausting for both the readers and the writer.
So, telling can be used as a shortcut to move through the unimportant bits in the story. And this will allow the story to progress at a reasonable pace, while holding the attention of the reader at the dramatized parts.