Is "Show don't Tell" really good advice?

I’ve always been really conflicted with this idea of "showing" more than "telling" in story writing, and I recall that for my creative writing classes I was often criticized for telling more than I showed in a story. In the end, I would use "show" more often and it stretched my writing and caused me to have a lot of run-on sentences and elaborate details where details were sometimes not required. How would one go about perhaps breaking down where to "show" and where to "tell" so that writing stories seems more balanced and not too "to the point" or even "flowery and over-written"?

  • When it come to "show don't tell," it's okay to tell if the showing backs up the telling. It goes back to the old adage "actions speak louder than words." For example, if a character is described as haughty, show him talking about himself constantly, having no regard for other people's feelings and boasting about what makes him proud. – SoalaIda 9 years ago
  • I think "show don't tell" truly is the best advice. I prefer to work in scriptwriting genres (stage or screen), and this is one genre where telling becomes painfully obvious and just plain painful. For example, I just watched Disney's Big Hero 6 where the protagonist verbally tells his brother "You know [my parents] died when I was 3!" (or something similar). I cringed at this "megaphoning" effect, but I also acknowledge that the film's target audience is children, who do not always pick up on subtleties. They need this kind of writing. Regardless, having your readers think and work through showing rather than spoon-feeding them by telling gets them more invested in the characters and the story. My writing professors would warn us not to be too vague, though. Leave good hints for your readers-not all of them will think exactly like you; too ambiguous actions/details will get lost in translation. – Nicole 9 years ago
  • I think that showing allows you as a writer, and the readers as well, more freedom. Because you don't really need to write everything down, and explicitly put, in order to express yourself and what you want to say - or the others to understand of your writing. And, as a reader first of all, I enjoy the "unsaid" more than the "told". That said, I think that you should find a balance between the two, otherwise the result will be that of feeling unconfortable with what is your writing style, and this wouldn't be fair either. – suepri 9 years ago
  • I do think that "show don't tell" is valid advice for any writer because it makes sure that you're not being too direct. Being too direct makes sure that not everything is a stream of constant information. It helps build the world around the characters rather than just statically presenting information. You don't need to say that a character is nice, but you can show that through their actions. – ninaricciarelli 9 years ago
  • Some of the best journalistic pieces show instead of tell. – Chelsea Scherer 8 years ago

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