When to tell instead of show

We’ve all heard the saying show, don’t tell. Even as I edit, I find instances where I need to point that out. However, telling does have a purpose. It’s about how you use it. And perhaps understanding it more will help writers understand when and when not to use it.

There are two main concepts where telling can work:

Skip to important Scenes

Every scene should drive the plot forward. We don’t need to see the character getting coffee or sitting through traffic. Unless something major happened, write a few telling sentences and skip to the next important thing.

Establishing groundwork

Telling the story’s foundation in a few sentences works as well. Many stories start with a telling sentence about the setting. Sometimes it helps to sneak in a few lines of backstory through a few telling sentences as well.

These aren’t the only ways it can work, but they are the two main ways I’ve seen it done well.

Have another way or a question? Leave a comment below!

5 thoughts on “When to tell instead of show

  1. I think writers have heard the “show don’t tell” so often that some can overuse it. I like a story that delves into a character’s internal dialogue, and it’s hard to show that. I think it’s a balancing act between narrative and action, and the best writers do it well.

    Liked by 1 person

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