Over the years, I’ve read through hundreds of different novels and short stories from published and non-published writers. One mistake sticks out in both crowds: needing to show the story instead of telling it.
Telling a story is when a writer blandly states something in their story. An example of this would be: There was mist over the lake. Showing your story is when the actions of the story describe what’s going on. An example of this would be: White mist from the rushing water roamed everywhere, brushing up against the land.
Many people preach that every sentence should expand and show your story, but I don’t think that has to be the case. Most well-written stories have showing and telling sentences mixed throughout. However, showing sentences still peep out more than telling sentences. It’s difficult to tell when you have the right amount of showing vs telling.
A good way to tell if you story has the right amount is to let another reader read the story. Readers can tell when the sentence flow is off. Writers who see their own story all the time know too much of what the story should say, making it difficult to catch mistakes.
Even though it’s hard to tell, there are ways to tell if your story is telling rather than showing.
- Using “words that en in -ly” a bunch
- Tell: Slowly, John stepped into the room.
- Show: John crept into the room.
- Using “start to” or “begin to”
- Tell: Jane started to sing.
- Show: Jane’s voice sang through the air.
- Using “next” or “then”
- Tell: Then Jacob grabbed the book.
- Show: Jacob grabbed the book.
- Using “to-be verbs” too much
- Tell: Jayne was jumping in a circle.
- Show: Jayne jumped in a circle.
- Using “there was”
- Tell: There was mist over the water by Jace.
- Show: Mist roamed over the water by Jace.
As a writer, showing and not telling a story has always been a struggle. Every writer – no matter how experienced – runs back into the issue of showing vs telling. If you struggle with this concept as a writer, I don’t think it’s a bad sign. Showing vs telling just takes practice.
Is there a common mistake you see more than this? Is there any more signs of telling that I missed? Comment below!