One of the biggest narrative writing rules I find writers struggle to understand is SHOWING VS TELLING.
It can be a hard concept to grasp. What exactly is the difference between showing and telling, and why does the rule insist that showing is best?
Here's the thing:
There are times when TELLING is acceptable.
Like most writing rules, it's flexible - within certain parameters.
SHOWING IS GIVING EVIDENCE TO THE READER, WHICH ALLOWS THEM TO FORM THE OPINION AND FEELINGS YOU WANT THEM TO FORM
So whenever you need your reader to feel or think a certain way about something in your story, it's always best to show it.
Here's an example:
Mr. Hoolin, the cantankerous old man who owned the gas station, glared at Bobby as he entered the store.
Now, if Bobby is our protagonist, we understand that Mr. Hoolin's cantankerousness is the perspective Bobby has for this person and this situation. This shows us that Bobby feels threatened by Mr. Hoolin and is on edge as he enters this store. We're right there, experiencing this moment with him.
However, if Mr. Hoolin is the protagonist, or neither Bobby nor Mr. Hoolin is the protagonist, then Mr. Hoolin's cantankerousness is the author giving an opinion about a character with no evidence to back it up.
It's akin to taking someone on a hike to the top of a hill on a summer afternoon, pointing to the sky, and saying, 'Just look at those Northern Lights!
This is a quick way to lose your reader's trust. As my former writing teacher, Micky Levy, used to say, "You've let go of your reader's hand."
ALTERNATIVELY, TELLING IS GREAT FOR INFORMATION THAT DOESN'T NEED EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT IT.
The summer passed in a flash. Before Bobby knew it, he was back on campus, feeling as if he had never left.
In this case, it is okay to tell us that time has passed and that Bobby feels as though the summer didn't happen because the relevant takeaway for the reader is that Bobby is back in the same state he was when he left for the summer. It is not necessary for us to join his summer experience, or to feel his state of return, because Bobby's summer is irrelevant to his arc of change, so it's okay to TELL us about it.
In scenes that shift a character's trajectory forward, an author should always take their reader's hand and show us how to experience that journey alongside them.
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