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What Exactly is the 'Show, Don't Tell' Writing Technique?

Samarpita Choudhury May 4, 2019
For those who value reading books more than watching movies, we give you one more reason to cling to your all-time favorite activity of reading. We tell you about the 'Show, Don't Tell' writing technique, which makes reading so fulfilling.
He said, we quote-
"Show the readers everything, tell them nothing."
―Ernest Hemingway
(practitioner of the 'Show, Don't Tell' Technique)
You shouldn't be surprised if you happen to come across a person appearing indifferent to you while you were discussing some utterly important occurrence that left you panting! You must be fuming with rage and wrath for the poor fellow, but don't blame him for his unbecoming reaction.
He was transported to a different world altogether. He was happily living in the world of fallacy, the world created by the author of the book that he was deeply engrossed in.
Yes, this is what authors do excellently. They help the readers live a life which is not theirs, but of those characters who are now hovering in their head. Despite his knowledge about the superficiality of the characters, plot, and locations, the reader surrenders himself to the author's description and projection of thoughts and views.
An author is revered owing to his ability to present things in a way that lends a visual dimension to his narration. And his means of doing this brilliant job is through various writing techniques.
In the following sections, we shall discuss a very famous writing technique that has been able to serve the purpose of enticing the readers with a story-telling venture by authors. The technique is called the 'Show, Don't Tell' writing technique.
Before we get further into understanding what does 'show, don't tell' mean in writing, we shall first understand what a writing technique actually is, and what is the purpose of following it.

What is a Writing Technique?

A writing technique is the skeleton over which you drape your ideas. The ideas are spun around with the aid of tone, style, mood, and content. These are further enriched with the adoption of a writing method which befits the piece perfectly. These things put together, make for a technique.
Now, on a more precise note, there are numerous ways of description.
First Person
Apart from these, there are also a few more which are employed as writing techniques for various other pieces of write-ups, like a poem, short story, parable, fable, comparison, et al.

Emotive Description

'Show, Don't Tell' Writing Technique

Now, let's check out more about the 'Show, Don't Tell' technique used in writing.

* As mentioned earlier, the writer must be able to sketch a picture in the minds of the readers about the accounts he/she writes in the piece.
* The 'show, don't tell' technique is an effective tool in achieving this. This technique could be used most safely while writing a piece of fiction. The writer can very well direct his readers to imagine in a manner that he decides. Hence, it is used so often in writing novels, short stories, and scripts for movies and plays.
* But this doesn't limit the efficiency of this technique of writing. When the writer intends to write on a real incident that occurred, but doesn't want to write it in a report format, per se, he can liberally use this technique to express himself strongly and accurately.
* The purpose of using this technique is to make the reader 'feel' and 'see' what the author 'wants' his readers to feel and see. The purpose of employing this technique gets defeated if the readers are baffled at the sight of myriad adjectives and adverbs used by the writer. Instead, he should write in a way which is lucid.

Examples of 'Show, Don't Tell' Writing Technique

Now, we shall examine some of the situations where the 'Show, Don't Tell' technique has intensified meanings.

Description of an Activity

On the first day of her school, Nancy stepped into the classroom and greeted her fellow students.
It was a bright and sunny morn in the month April, when Nancy found her way into the magnificent building which had a golden brown color on its walls. The day was promising, for she was filled with vitality and charm as soon as she entered the classroom, where there were dozens of students seated.
She gazed all around to catch a quick glimpse of the entire classroom, and with an air of contentment walked towards a bunch of youngsters who were just like her - curious and agile. Then, with a smile which pronounced friendliness, she greeted them.

Description of Anger

In anger, John broke the saucer which was lying on the table top.
John entered the room and placed himself heavily on the nearby wooden chair. His breath was not the usual kind. More precisely, he wasn't his usual self. His eyes were blood-red.
And as he sat on the chair, his fists were firm. He was breathing heavily, and just then, he took the clay saucer that lay on the nearby table and threw it with all his might, aiming at the floor beneath. The saucer broke into a hundred pieces.

Description of Love

Ryan and Eva loved each other earnestly. They were inseparable.
Ryan and Eva longed for each other's presence. They loved staying in each other's company. So much so, that they seldom parted ways. They just couldn't think of the times when they would have to call it a day.
In the class, in the library, on the way to school, at the cafeteria; one would always find them lost in themselves, seldom bothered about what was happening around.

Description of Horror

Cecilia was petrified at the sight of the cat when she entered the room.
It was a long and demanding day for Cecilia. Like always, she took the stairs instead of the elevator, and finally reached her apartment on the ninth floor. She unlocked the door, and cautiously entered the room with soft steps. There was something in the house which perturbed her. She stood frozen at the hallway.
The clock that was hanging on the wall, seemed overtly noisy, as if telling her that something ominous was awaiting her. It was a cold and dry evening in the month of December. Yet, she was perspiring profusely. As she waited, clueless, the source of the sound, that had by now almost killed her, intensified.
She heard something fall on the ground. Gosh! It was her favorite lampshade that amplified the grandeur of her study table in the room. She now mustered courage, enough to break into the room and find the source which facilitated these wretched things.
Slowly, almost stealthily, she unlocked the door of her bedroom, and with lots of effort found the switch of the light. As she was trying to stretch her vision and see what was so abnormal about her room, and the entire chain of events, she saw something pass.
She hurried behind it. To her utter surprise, it was a cat. The poor cat was perhaps more scared of Cecilia than she was of the cat.
These are some apt examples of the 'show, don't tell' writing technique. This descriptive technique can be put to use for describing any and many situations; almost every situation. It is governed by the line that demarcates telling from showing. The line of difference is dramatization.
Telling lacks in it, and showing is rich in it. However, while using this technique, it should be always borne in mind that the detailed description should serve the purpose of detailing; but it shouldn't overemphasize the details, making it cumbersome for the readers to think.
The description shouldn't be slow and sluggish, that can impair the vision of the readers. It should always be different from a screenplay.