Monday, October 11, 2010

Is Telling Better Than Showing in Your Writing?

The awesome site had an article by Charlie Jane Anders I found fascinating (and the pictures rocked, too).Writers have been told the Holy Grail of writerly excellence is 'show, don't tell'. Who would've thunk it that this could be turned on its head? Wait, we're talking about sci-fi, where turning the norm on its head is de rigueur!

One piece of writing advice gets held up as more sacred than any other: Show, don't tell. But this maxim can ruin your story-telling, if you treat it like a law. Here are five situations where telling is actually better.
Like most rules of thumb, "Show don't tell" is excellent advice most of the time — but people often apply it too broadly, or in situations where it hurts more than it helps. You have to be aware of the spirit, as well as the letter, of this particular law. Writers have a tendency to lecture readers — and this goes double for science fiction and fantasy writers, who have a lot of worldbuildy stuff to get out of the way. It's definitely never a good idea to bludgeon your readers with information.
(And then as soon as you say something like that, people can bring up any one of a number of classics that do in fact bludgeon the reader with information, from Moby Dick to Infinite Jest. Again with the fact that no rule is ever absolute.)
But in a discussion like this one, it's easy to get bogged down in abstractions and axioms. So here are five concrete examples of situations where you really may be better off telling rather than showing — and when showing may make your readers groan with exasperation.

Read the rest of this article here.


  1. Fun article. Dorathy Parker's head in space, indeed. The truly frightening part is that I think I own a few scifi novels with some of those antique covers...

  2. That's a very fun article and to the point. Years ago, I can remember reading something about that in Writers Digest. That telling all the time can get tiring, too. I guess we all just need to learn to write perfectly. LOL!

    thanks for the pointer!


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