Aspiring writers often get the criticism that they have merely told something as opposed to having shown it. I certainly got the criticism and occasionally still do. When first heard, the point can be hard to grasp. It took me a while to internalize what it meant.
I thought of the showing-telling dichotomy recently when I prepared for a critique session. The work, written by another member of the critique group, is an excellent example of showing. I pair it below with how a less skillful writer might tell a reader the same point. The latter I wrote myself for the purpose of contrast.
If you read the two passages juxtaposed below, you’ll quickly grasp what showing means and why it is better than telling.
He loved his son deeply, and his son returned the affection.
I pass her, pass whatever clutter there is, whoever else is here I don’t care, and reach for my son. He throws himself at me utterly recklessly, knowing that I will never not catch him.
Ah, the smell of him. The warmth. The softness. The strength in those little arms that clutch my neck, the fingers that pinch my skin, the head that butts my nose in his eagerness – and mine – to wrap him in my arms. It is only in the distant background that I hear my wife laughing.
Go forth and write likewise. I’ll try to do so as well.