When to "Tell" in Fiction - #writetip

While there are a lot of writing blogs and professional editors that offer advice on showing vs. telling, most of them don't explain when to "tell" and not show in writing...

The contrasts between showing vs. telling:

Telling is when a writer provides the reader with direct facts, or explains a situation, or offers important information in relation to the storyline in a straightforward manner. This approach is considered passive writing that summarizes events that aren’t really significant to the plot, but they are necessary to fill in plot holes or get the info across quickly to keep the story moving forward.

In general, telling requires using fewer words to convey details, but those sentences should still be written with “voice.” (I go into much more detail about character “voice” and a writer’s narrative style in book two, “The Writer’s Guide to Deep POV,” if you’re interested.)

Also, telling is kind of an old-fashioned way of storytelling. Although, recently I read three traditionally published authors that still do way too much telling with info-dumps that made me put the book down while yawning, and then pick up a different novel…

Showing is sensationalizing and digging deeper. It vividly conveys more of a visual for the reader through visceral, impactful, and evocative writing that allows them to effortlessly imagine the story-world, as well as the characters you’ve created. A deeper POV is considered active writing, but it is typically more wordy and descriptive. 

Also, (showing) Deep POV relates to almost every sentence in a story, and can be conveyed through the author’s language, syntax, and word choices. When writing in Deeper POV, everything that happens in a scene is processed in a unique way by that character, so even the narrative (telling) must have “voice.”

I know some of you are asking: So when is it okay to just tell the reader something?

While there are many different methods to showing in writing, there are just as many reasons to tell when needed.

Showing vs. telling is all about balance.

To me personally, showing is used when a writer wants a Deeper POV, and telling is needed when the reader requires certain information pertaining to the timeline or plot. Telling is for informing the reader in a passive way, like giving them the bare bones.

For instance, whenever the writer gives the reader information in a direct manner, it is considered telling. But it can also make the reader feel somewhat removed from the immediate experience of the moment.

In spite of that, if a writer showed everything, then it would cause a lot of overwriting and major pacing issues within the manuscript. Some parts of a story are so inconsequential that writers might want the reader to known a fact or medium detail, without going into too much description. If the details or facts are only supplemental to the scene, then it’s perfectly okay to just tell the reader. Because if a writer were to show every single thing, then the reader would consider the scene padded.

So when should a writer "tell" the reader something? 

There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to showing vs. telling, but one instance where it would better to “tell” would be:

1) To convey the passing of time


Let’s discuss the first reason. When a writer wants to convey the passage of time to the reader, it is much quicker to just state that a few days have passed or even months. However, a writer should still show it through “voice.” 

In my novel, LOST IN STARLIGHT, I wanted to skip the duller parts of the story whenever the main character was in school, so I summarized when required.

Let’s take a look at one example…

EXAMPLE: My afternoon classes zoom by like movie trailers. And then the theater goes dark right before the film starts, and mercifully the last bell rings. I’m finally free.

Did you grasp how I showed the passing of time?

The short paragraph lets the reader know that school has ended without a long info-dump of shallower writing.

Here’s another example…

EXAMPLE: Miss Rogers had kept Charlene after school, giving the entire class a lengthy and dull lecture in French. When class finally ended, Charlene rushed out of the heavy doors, buttoning her strawberry-colored Agnes B. trench coat as she went outside.

Now if the paragraph above had gone into more detail about the teacher’s long-winded speech, then the passage would’ve become a dull lecture for the reader as well.

Another example is in Stephenie Meyer’s book, NEW MOON, where she states the passage of time by simply having chapters listed with the name of the month, but no other text or explanation is given. The reader infers that (spoiler alert!) months have passed since Edward left and how long poor Bella has been wallowing in her heartache.
For more tips on Deep POV (showing vs. telling) and when to "tell" in your story, I recommend reading the expanded and recently updated book, "The Writer's Guide to Character Emotion

The Best Method to Creating Realistic Character Expression and Emotion

*Amazon Bestseller in Editing, Writing & Reference*

Most writers struggle with creating a captivating story. The fastest way to improve your writing is by the use of the “Deep Point-of-View” technique, which can transform any novel from mediocre storytelling into riveting prose. This handbook is great for self-published authors, short story writers, and even published authors wanting to instantly enhance their writing skills.

This manual will also explain how you can greatly enhance your characterization by eliminating filtering words, and includes hundreds of amazing tips on how to submerge your readers so deeply into any scene that they will experience the story along with your characters. Also, learn how to avoid “telling” by applying “showing” methods through powerful examples that will deepen the reader’s experience through vivid, sensory details.

Ready to take your writing skills to the next level? 

Please Click Here for More Information...

*If you've purchased a copy before March 2016 and you would like the updated edition, please email the receipt Amazon (or other online retailer) sent you to me: EMAIL. Please mention which portable reading device you own, and I will email you the eBook format suitable for that reader within 48 hours.

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