When an editor says, “Show, don’t tell,” what exactly does that mean? It’s more than a string of adjectives or details. Showing allows the author to tell the story through the action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings of character’s. Perhaps this list of do’s and don’ts will clarify.
When an author “shows” s/he:
• makes description part of the action. Not: The floor was old. But: The worn floor creaked with each footstep on the warped boards.
• uses dialog to show description. Not: Sam was intimidating. But: Sam rammed his face close to John’s. “You’ll do what I tell you. You’ll do it now.”
• uses dialog to show emotion. Not: Mary was angry. But: Mary shouted, “Get away from me. You’re not worth my time.”
• uses action to show emotion. Not: Mary was sad. But: Tears streamed down Mary’s cheeks and her words caught in her throat.
When an author “tells” s/he:
• wanders off into lengthy expositions and digressions.
• explains and explains and explains.
• tells the reader what to think and feel.
• lists the facts and then announces the conclusion.
It takes more effort to create a word picture, but the effort can make the difference between a novel that sells and one that doesn’t.
More writing tips:
How Do Conflict and Crisis Differ in a Mystery Novel?
How Important is Conflict in a Mystery Story?
How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel
Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel
What is Literary Style?
What is Theme in Literature?
7 Murder Weapons That Will Challenge The Cleverest Sleuth
7 Characteristics of Today’s Modern Mystery Novels
Developing Characters is No Mystery
Author’s Voice: How to find it?