Tim Leach wrote this on Reddit today, and it is awesome.
The evolution of the writer usually goes like this:
- Beginners tell too much. They get told over and over again about show don’t tell.
- Amateurs show too much. They no longer tell anything, and so everything is over described.
- Professionals know when to tell and when to show.
“Show don’t tell” is not an overrated rule, as it really is a major weakness that’s almost universal to up and coming writers, so beating people over the head with it usually yields some results. But telling has its place too – it’s punchy, effective, and can be evocative if the voice that’s doing the telling is strong enough.
The rule I do try to stick to with “show don’t tell” is to apply it to character emotions. I try never to write “Dave was angry”, “Jeff was scared”, but to show them being angry or scared. You’ve also got to be careful about using tell too much for exposition, it can be very lazy and super dull. But yes, telling is a useful skill. Sometimes…
TL:DR – Show is usually better than tell, except when it’s not. Sorry that’s contradictory. Writing is hard.