Show, don't tell is an admonition to fiction writers to write in a manner that allows the reader to experience the story through a character's action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the narrator's exposition, summarization, and description. The advice is not to be heavy-handed, but to allow issues to emerge from the text instead, and applies to non-fiction writing too.

The principle

An early example of giving this advice lies with Henry James. In the preface to the New York edition of Daisy Miller, he left a pencil-mark in the margins of his notes, reminding himself to "Dramatize, dramatize!"[1]
The mantra "Show, don't tell" has become stock advice for fiction-writers. Janet Evanovich considers it to be one of the most important principles of fiction: "Instead of stating a situation flat out, you want to let the reader discover what you're trying to say by watching a character in action and by listening to his dialogue. Showingbrings your characters to life."[2] "It is the difference between actors acting out an event, and the lone playwright standing on a bare stage recounting the event to the audience."[3]
"Show, don't tell" should not be applied to all incidents in the story. According to James Scott Bell, "Sometimes a writer tells as a shortcut, to move quickly to the meaty part of the story or scene. Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid. If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won't, and your readers will get exhausted."[4] Showing requires more words; telling may cover a greater span of time more concisely.[5] Anovel that contains only showing would be incredibly long; therefore, a narrative can contain some legitimate telling.
Scenes that are important to the story should be dramatized with showing, but sometimes what happens between scenes can be told so the story can make progress. According to Orson Scott Card and others, "showing" is so terribly time consuming that it is to be used only for dramatic scenes.[6] The objective is to find the right balance of telling versus showing, action versus summarization. Factors like rhythm, pace, and tone come into play.[7][8]
According to novelist Francine Prose:
  • [The Alice Munro passage] contradicts a form of bad advice often given young writers—namely, that the job of the author is to show, not tell. Needless to say, many great novelists combine "dramatic" showing with long sections of the flat-out authorial narration that is, I guess, what is meant by telling. And the warning against telling leads to a confusion that causes novice writers to think that everything should be acted out ... when in fact the responsibility of showing should be assumed by the energetic and specific use of language."[9]
The issue of when to "show" and when to "tell" is the subject of ongoing debate.[10[['t+tell#cite_note-9|]]]

[Note: The above needs to be revised for a middle school audience.]

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