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One of the many things that make me hit the back button, put down the short story, or return the book to the library is "telling". The minute the author decides to state that "X was angry" or "Y was bored", I get angry or I get bored. I've seen this issue for years--heck, I used to have this issue myself--in both fanfiction and original fiction alike, and while many reviewers/commenters often call out the author on it, they never really explain the concept. Thus, the poor beleaguered newbie gets hate over something he/she may not fully grasp.

After years of seeing this unfold, I've decided to make a writing resource about it for :iconwriters-and-editors:, in hopes that maybe, just maybe, it'll help somebody, somewhere.

What is "Telling"?


"Telling" occurs when a writer either:
a.) states a character's emotions;
b.) summarizes the setting; or
c.) summarizes situations that can be inferred or would have more impact if described.

It's like the commentary that accompanies a soccer game: you clearly see what's going on, but the announcer declares what's going on anyway. Here's an example of the first variety:
"A showed exasperation at the spilled tea."

So now we know that Character A is upset because someone (was it her?) spilled some tea. But simply being told that she's exasperated doesn't really have much of an impact on us, now does it?

An example of the second variety:
"It was a sunny day."

Yeah, and...? Why does it matter that it's sunny outside? Should it matter?

And finally, an example of the third variety:
"C had been standing in line for hours, but it had yet to move."

Not really a bad sentence, but it needs a little more oomph before the audience can react, whether it be with sympathy or schadenfreude.

What is "Showing"?

"Showing", on the other hand, involves indirectly describing a character's emotions, the situation at hand, or the setting in detail. Notice that I said 'indirectly'. Get too direct and we wind up in "telling" territory.

Here's the above examples when shown:

"A groaned as she picked up the tea cup and stormed into the kitchen. She had just mopped the floor, for crying out loud!"

"The sun shone over the seaside town as the children raced towards the beach, laughing and playing as they did so."

"C bent his knees to give his legs a break, then stood on his tiptoes to peer over the line to the club. He sighed upon seeing the redhead still arguing with the bouncer. At this rate, the club would close before the line moved an inch."


In all three scenarios, the reader is given more-or-less the same information, but (mostly!) through action and thought, not summary. We know about A's exasperation through her groaning and stomping; we're given a reason behind it through a peek into her thoughts ('she had just mopped the floor'). The 'sunny day' is given significance because the children are going to the beach. Finally, we probably feel bad for C because 1.) he's tired from standing in line for so long and 2.) his misery is being caused by some moron who can't take the hint that she's not allowed inside the club. Or you're probably wondering why he just doesn't go up to the front and figure out what's going on instead of standing there doing nothing. Regardless, you're still curious about C, aren't you? And A? (Why did she have to mop the floor?) And about the children? (Why are they going to the beach? What awaits them there?)

The key to "showing" is using, as mentioned before, action and thoughts to explain things to the reader. But these two things aren't just important for the sake of description. You need them to make your audience to connect with your characters, as well. You need to get into said characters' heads, make them feel like real people. This--in combination with action--helps to establish the mood and invoke certain emotions in your reader, which in turn, keeps them reading. So the next time you're trying to describe how a character feels or how a place looks or wondering how to get your reader into the scene/situation/event that's going on in your story, think:

1.) What actions can I use to show how this character feels? What actions are normally associated with the emotion he/she is feeling?

2.) What is my character thinking during this event? Why are they thinking this thought/these thoughts during this event?

Mind you, I'm not suggesting that you completely cut 'telling' out of your life (just like you shouldn't completely cut sugar out of your life, contrary to what those damn weight loss commercials tell you). It simply must be done in accompaniment with "showing"--and rather sparingly. After all, I had to tell you what C was in line for  in order for you to care about C, and I had to tell you where the children were going for the whole 'sun shining' thing to have any significance. You need to inform your audience of what's going on, but not to the point where you're explaining every little thing. Does this make sense?
This is the 1st of a hopefully 3-part series called "The Most Common Mistakes New Writers Make". As I'm not an expert on writing, I would really appreciate any constructive criticism and concerns you may have about this tutorial so that I can make it better and more useful. Thank you!

EDIT 12/2/14: Holy shit, I got a DD! Thank you GrimFace! I can't even--Explode la plz 182 : Dance Together Emoticon :excited: Joy 
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Daily Deviation

Given 2014-12-02
We're always talking and telling each other to SHOW what's going on without actually explaining what that means.  Show It, Don't Tell It by GoldenNocturna is a simple and informative guide that covers the topic well. ( Featured by inknalcohol )
:iconmikoka:
MikoKa Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2016  Professional Traditional Artist
This is such a pet peeve of mine! Thank you so much for pointing it out!

Just thought I'd stop by and say 'Hi'. :D
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Nov 14, 2016  Student Writer
No problem! And hi! :D
Reply
:icondragonoftheworld:
DragonOfTheWorld Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you so much for sharing this! It does really help writers to pen better than before!

Congrats on your DD
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2015  Student Writer
You're welcome, and thanks! :)
Reply
:icondragonoftheworld:
DragonOfTheWorld Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Anytime^-^
Reply
:iconpieisagamer:
PieIsAGamer Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
This goes on line with the things I've learned about writing in school so far. Except, this goes more in depth ( Thanks common core >_>) Point is, this helps me with setting the scene in my writing. Thanks!
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2014  Student Writer
No problem! :)
Reply
:iconjackofalltrades0097:
jackofalltrades0097 Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
On behalf of the Authors-Club, congrats on your :yey:  Daily Deviation!!! :yey: 
We've featured you on our front page, along with a few other authors who've recently gotten a Literary DD, and wish you the best of luck on your future writings!! Typewriter Emote 


I personally found your work very insightful you make great points! From someone who's had to try and explain this to people in the past, I think I'm just going to send anyone who ever asks over to this submission from now on, cause you hit the nail on the head!
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2014  Student Writer
Thanks so much! I really appreciate everyone's kind words and features! :)
Reply
:iconjackofalltrades0097:
jackofalltrades0097 Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
You're very welcome! 
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:iconrhiannonoeuvre:
RhiannonOeuvre Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2014   Writer
Congrats on the DD :hug:
I'm glad you have outlined this because I often wonder if I've managed to do more showing than telling. It's difficult to master, but, as you say, makes for better writing!

Thank you for writing this :)
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2014  Student Writer
Thank you, and no problem. :hug:
Reply
:iconmegotmoo:
megotmoo Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
It makes perfect sense to me. Now I know why some people find a couple of the stories I've come up with boring or uninteresting.
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2014  Student Writer
I'm glad it was helpful!
Reply
:icon1deathgod:
1deathgod Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Professional Writer
Nicely explained.  I'm afraid all too often those of us who know what we're doing start speaking writer-ese that no one else can understand.^^;
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2014  Student Writer
Thanks! Yeah, I've seen a similar thing happen with my science professors.
Reply
:icon1deathgod:
1deathgod Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2014  Professional Writer
Yeah, darn super intelligent people not being able to communicate.:D
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2014  Student Writer
:XD:
Reply
:iconmonkeyfreed:
Monkeyfreed Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014
Whenever I write 'he was angry' I do it for two reasons. To starts splaying how angrey they were and how they do something to show their anger, or as a joke.

(Joe was a little angry)

Joe: I WILL DESTROY EVERYONE!

(Joe was a little ticked off)
Reply
:iconxvanyx:
xVanyx Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014
Very nice text, something the all of us should read before writing ^_^
Just yesterday I read a book from someone, who told everything and didn't show anything, so my first impression was that it was like one of the books you read in highschool in english class before anyone can speak english (I'm from germany) and thought the story was nice I simply couldn't bring myself to read it in the end, but only now that you pointed it out, I understood what was bad about it. 
I guess it is pretty difficult to wight out for an author, what should be told and what shown, since if the emotions of a character are shown I often do not get what they are feeling, because I have asperger syndrome ^^"

But one little point of critic (seriously, I'm a nitpicker) "The sun shone over the seaside town as the children raced towards the beach, laughing and playing as they did so." How can you race and play at the same time?
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
Thank you!

Looking at that sentence, it does sound strange. XD
Reply
:iconxvanyx:
xVanyx Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014
You're welcome ^-^

It seriously is a very little datail, in an aczuall book it should be corrected, but since it is only a little example here it doesn't really matter 
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
Yeah. I didn't think it was a huge thing.
Reply
:iconxvanyx:
xVanyx Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014
^-^
Reply
:icondreamoarts:
DreamoArts Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Wow, you sound just like my language arts teacher when we do creative writing in school! Excellent guide :D
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
Loti, thanks! :)
Reply
:iconani-eimi:
Ani-Eimi Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
This is very helpful. Thank you! :+fav: :heart:
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
You're welcome!
Reply
:icongvardianangel:
gvardianangel Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
This was really helpful, thank you so much for writing this. :hug:
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
Thanks, and you're welcome. :hug:
Reply
:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Congrats on the DD, great tutorial! :dalove:
Have a nice day! :love: by CookiemagiK
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
Thank you! Same to you! :D
Reply
:iconlintu47:
Lintu47 Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
My pleasure, thank you! Cuddling Practice by TheHugClub
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
No problem! :)
Reply
:iconripond:
ripond Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014   Writer
Helpful, thanks :D
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
No problem! :)
Reply
:iconthegalleryofeve:
TheGalleryOfEve Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Congratulations on your well-deserved DD!!! :iconflyingheartsplz::iconlainloveplz::iconflyingheartsplz: :clap::clap::clap:
I’m very happy for you!!! :iconloveloveplz: :tighthug:
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
Thank you! :happybounce: the LA scale Explode la plz
Reply
:iconthymetoread:
thymetoread Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you! This is the first time I've come across a good, clear explanation.
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
You're welcome. :)
Reply
:icondragonesper:
dragonesper Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014
Particularly useful after NaNoWrimo
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
Glad you think so! :D
Reply
:iconeremitik:
Eremitik Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014
Bouncing as I do between poetry and prose, I have a horrible time separating the tell and show aspect. With this, I hope to remind myself to edit more heavily when prosing.

Thank you!
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2014  Student Writer
No problem!
Reply
:iconruneflight:
RuneFlight Featured By Owner May 21, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Some great advice here! Definitely gave me something to think about. Thanks!
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner May 21, 2014  Student Writer
No problem!
Reply
:iconsda-messengersoracle:
SDA-MessengersOracle Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Most everyone that's commented on this already has made the important points of critique so I don't need to say anything on that. However, one thing I will say is this: perhaps writing a piece on the appropriate times to "tell the story" would be helpful. =) Great job here!
Reply
:icongoldennocturna:
GoldenNocturna Featured By Owner May 1, 2014  Student Writer
Hmm, hadn't thought of that. I'll keep that in mind. Thanks! :)
Reply
:iconsda-messengersoracle:
SDA-MessengersOracle Featured By Owner May 1, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome! :highfive:
Reply
:iconasterlia:
Asterlia Featured By Owner Apr 26, 2014  Student General Artist
This is very helpful! Of course, there are times when telling is necessary, like saying, "The door was open" (that doesn't really need description to clarify what's going on), but when describing characters' emotions showing is definitely better. Showing lets the readers identify with the character, while telling makes the readers merely see what's going on without them feeling as if they're involved.
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