Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of novels and short stories. One mistake sticks out the most: showing the story instead of telling it.
Telling a story is when a writer states their story in a bland tone. An example would be: There was mist over the lake. Showing your story is when actions describe what’s going on. An example would be: White mist from the rushing water roamed everywhere, brushing up against the land.
Some 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 exist more than telling ones. It’s difficult to tell when you have the right amount of showing vs telling.
A good way to tell though is by letting someone read the story. Readers can tell when the flow is off. Writers, who see their own story all the time, know what it should say, which makes 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 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, it’s not a bad sign. It takes practice.
Is there a common mistake you see more than this? Is there any more signs of telling that I missed? Comment below!