Telling versus Showing

Jun 17, 2015 by

Telling versus Showing

I had an epiphany today.

With an increased workload, some days I have more to do than there are hours to accomplish the work. Because this happens on a regular basis, I look for ways to increase my productivity and my satisfaction in the writing I produce.

On Monday my instructor and my critique group said, “you’re telling, not showing…”

And we all know how big a mistake that is.

The idea is to SHOW . . .

. . . not tell.


I used to think so.

But now, I’m going to veer from the general caveat.


Those so-called experts are WRONG!


In order to get a lot of writing done as quickly as possible, it is absolutely OK to tell rather than show.

In fact, it is BETTER to tell than to show.


Because by telling, you get the story down and you get it down fast. You get all those essential bits in before they disappear…and we all know that when components of a story or bit of writing decide to disappear, they’re pretty much gone forever.

So the deal is this . . .

. . . write it down as quickly as possible.

And if you’re telling rather than showing, then good for you!  You understand the point of the exercise.

But wait, you may object, aren’t we supposed to show and not tell?Vintage typewriter

Sure we are!

But ONLY in the final draft.

When we begin to write something for the first time, the idea is to get it down as quickly and in as much detail as possible without worrying about getting all the “showing” just right. Get the action down. Get the message across. When you go back to edit, you can do all the showing you want. And you’ll be able to relax and actually write really well.


Because you are no longer worried that you won’t be able to remember what comes next.

When we spend all the time in the world to get those show words right, we come back to our writing and then wonder, “Where the heck am I?”

And that’s the death knell of the creative brain.

I know for myself, when my brain wants to be creative, it can boggle even my own mind. But that kind of creativity isn’t infinite. In fact, it only comes in spurts and blasts, and if I’m not smart enough to record my brilliance, or have people in my critique group remember what I said, it’s pretty much gone. That flash of brilliance that might have placed me in the hall of fame of writing brilliance is simply gone.

But when I just allow myself the luxury of telling, going step by step, point by point through a story…whether I’m writing a magazine article or a mystery, then the story and framework is there. I can sleep and come back to it the next day. I can go on vacation and come back to it in a week or a month…and the amazing point is that I REMEMBER what it is I was thinking at that point in the story.

The showing is the fancy work.

It’s where we can take the time to find the PERFECT word to describe that scene at the crisis point of your story.

Because I KNOW where I’m going, I have the luxury of spending whatever time I need to fancy up my writing and do all that “showing” not “telling” that we’re all told to do.

What they forgot to tell you in the first place is that sometimes it is in the telling that you actually FINISH the story…enough so that when you go back to edit, your showing words sparkle because you’ve told the story on paper and you won’t get lost.

The next time your critique partner/group says “That’s telling, NOT showing…” you can sit back and say, “Great!  Because I know where I’m going from here.”


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