__ Anton Chekhov
Many writers have difficulty showing rather than telling. That’s because the expression is never really explained to them. Telling means explaining things for the reader and showing means suggesting.
“A common writing mistake is to tell the reader the events of a story or tell the reader how a character is feeling. Journalism is an acceptable method of telling, of presenting the facts, but fiction creates the illusion of being there in the story, seeing events happen without the writer telling you.” (Snyder)
“Most writers interpret that Show, Don't Tell means one should write vividly with detailed images, sensory information, and/or dramatized action (show) rather than in abstract summaries or simple statements (tell).” (Johnson)
Telling is impersonal, general and right to the point while showing is getting up close, intimate and hinting.
The aim of showing is to let the reader feel for himself and conclude for himself. Let the reader see it rather than telling him.
Avoid the word “Was” and all forms of the verb”to be” (am, is, are, was, was being, will have been, could have been)
The man was well-dressed. (tell)
The man wore a dark Armani coat over a linen shirt. (show)
It was hot. (telling)
She burned her lips on the rim of her cup. (showing)
Do not include the five senses: “smell, see, smell, hear, touch.”
She smelled his cologne. (tell)
The scent of vanilla mixed with the animal odor of his body. (show)
He saw the tree when he turned the corner of the street. (tell)
The tree came into view, filling the view at a turn of the road. (show)
Avoid prepositions “to,” and “in” (used as a noun):
They grabbed a shovel to dig a hole. (telling)
They each grabbed a shovel and turned it around before showing it into the ground. (showing)
The lightning burst into the sky. She screamed in fear.(telling)
The lightning burst into the sky. She grabbed a curtain and dug her fingers into the fabric. (showing)
Avoid words implying a thinking process: “Realized”, “thought”, “guessed”:
The magician reappeared. I thought he had been crushed under the tree trunk. (telling)
The magician’s hand crawled around the tree trunk. I ran to the tree, shoved my shoulder against the bark and rolled the trunk to the side. “He is alive.” (showing)
Remove adverbs and nouns describing feelings: “happy/happiness”, “kindly/kindness”, “angrily/anger”:
“Stop it!” she screamed angrily. (telling)
“Stop it!” She slammed the book on the table. (showing)
She had never felt so much happiness. (telling)
Her heart ran a marathon in her chest and her smile grew from ear to ear. (showing)
Showing does not come naturally and telling always finds a way to creep up into our writing. But remember that showing is what gives the reader the feeling of being there and allows the reader to identify with the narrator. Novels are very different from the narratives, fairy tales or news; they are designed to plunge the reader into another world where the reader can forget about his or her life and become someone else. Novels do not use the artifacts of oral storytelling, yet we are more used to storytelling, summarizing, skipping stages when we tell our day.
Telling is much more natural than showing, so, always go back to your chapters and spot the words that indicate telling, underline them if you must. Some online applications such as “http://editminion.com/” or "http://prowritingaid.com/" help you spot them.
Even though showing should always take precedence over telling, there are some exceptions.
It is okay to tell when you want to describe a minor event, show the passage of time or indicate a change in setting. Showing is also used to create a surprise, in a brief sentence (The clock struck midnight. The man marched toward me. I gaped at the sight of his gun.) Showing can describe something a hero does continually after a trauma (She ate, went to bed, swore in her dreams) or an obsession (He remembered her long legs, her glossy hair. He could still smell her perfume). Showing also works at the end of a chapter to create a cliff hanger (And the circle of life continued).
Snyder V., Maria. “Show Vs. Tell.”
Johnson, D.M. “The Show Versus Tell Debate.” http://www.scribophile.com/academy/the-show-versus-tell-debate
Hardy, Janice. “Don't Tell Me Why: Words That Often Tell, Not Show.”