‘She was a shy girl.’
‘She couldn’t meet my piercing eyes confidently, as she was busy noticing her twitching hands more than my gaze.’
In the first sentence, the adjective ‘shy’ explicitly defines the girl’s introverted nature. In the second sentence, however, a picture of the girl’s introvert behaviour has been vividly painted without using any adjective for her.
The ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ is a classical technique used in writing, which allows the reader to experience the story and not just read it. It brings forward an articulate description of a plot or a character without hampering with its interest level. Showing helps a writer to let the reader imagine, understand and experience the story. Telling, on the other hand, steals the readers’ opportunity to deduce.
An effective tool for Character Building
The ‘show, don’t tell’ technique is used for sketching the physical or emotional characteristics of a person. For example:
‘I got an ache in my lower neck while continually looking up at him during our hour-long conversation.’
The above sentence shows that the character described is tall, instead of using the word tall.
“YOU walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn’t slam. You smile, embarrassed to be a nice girl, and your nails are bare and your V-neck sweater is beige and it’s impossible to know if you’re wearing a bra but I don’t think that you are”- Caroline Kepnes
The above sentence is an introduction for the female protagonist of the novel ‘You’. The author has described the character with her actions and dressing from a male gaze.
For an enchanting setting of a story
The settings of a particular scene are the visual element of the story. Hence, to give a vivid picture of it, ‘show, don’t tell’ technique is used. For example:
‘Looking at the leaves that quivered helplessly, drenched in the spotlight of the full moon; she remembered herself, standing nervously on the stage before her performance.’
The above example helps a reader to visualise a girl staring at her plants and getting flashes of herself standing nervously on the stage under a spotlight, just before her performances.
Dialogues are instrumental to show the depth of a relationship between two characters, set the tone of the scene, advances the story etc. Hence, the ‘show, don’t tell’ technique is prominently used here. For example:
‘Staring at his father’s broad back, he spoke softly, “Hey Da..Dad I am sorry. I know I shouldn’t have had followed you there. I just..I..I thought,” he hesitated again. His heart was pounding out of his sweat-soaked shirt. He spoke again, more softly than before,” I thought you were cheating on Mom again and I,” the twitching of his hands stopped as his father turned towards him, teary and red-faced. “Dad… Dad? His voice trembled, but before he could apologise he was following his father, who rushed out of the room without a word, “Dad? DAD LISTEN TO ME PLEASE,” he shouted with parched throat until his father was no longer in his vision.’
‘Show, Don’t Tell’ from the Masters
‘Once upon a time-of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve-old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already-it had not been light all day-and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.’
Well. you have guessed it right. This excllent example of ‘Show, Don’t Tell’ is written by none other than Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol.
Yet another fascinating description comes from Yann Martel in Life of Pi:
‘My feelings can perhaps be imagined, but they can hardly be described. To the gurgling beat of my greedy throat, pure, delicious, beautiful, crystalline water flowed into my system. Liquid life, it was. I drained that golden cup to the very last drop, sucking at the hole to catch any remaining moisture. I went, “Ahhhhhh!” tossed the can overboard and got another one. I opened it the way I had the first and its contents vanished just as quickly. That can sailed overboard too, and I opened the next one. Which, shortly, also ended up in the ocean. Another can was dispatched. I drank four cans, two liters of that most exquisite of nectars, before I stopped. You might think such a rapid intake of water after prolonged thirst might upset my system. Nonsense! I never felt better in my life. Why, feel my brow! My forehead was wet with fresh, clean, refreshing perspiration. Everything in me, right down to the pores of my skin, was expressing joy. ‘
As seen above, the ‘show don’t tell’ technique gives a deeper understanding of the story to the reader. It helps the reader to relate to the story and feel it. However, this technique is length consuming. Therefore, the technique cannot be used repeatedly in a write-up, as otherwise, it may delay the progress of the story. A writer tells specific plots of his story, instead of showing it when he wants to cut short a subordinate part in the story or to link two events. Showing makes a scene more striking and dramatic while telling makes it more narrative and informative. Showing and telling are both useful tools in writing. Although, showing builds a better connection between the reader and the story. It gives better imagery and clarity to the writer’s thoughts in a reader’s mind.