Magical Words: Show, Don’t Tell – Except When You Tell

From the Internet Hive Mind

One of the hard and fast rules of writing is SHOW DON’T TELL … except when it isn’t.

Showing takes time. A lot of time and words. And if what is being shown is boring or slow, well, maybe a quick tell is better.

Faith Hunter wrote a Magical Words post on 9/1/2010 which provides some guidelines for breaking the rules … and writing as to guide the reader through transitioning the borders of rules and rulebreaking. “Rules of Writing: Show, Don’t Tell, (Except When You Tell)”

Rule number one of When NOT to show is “Transitions”. Read the blog post for the rest.

Full URL is:

WRITING EXERCISE: After reviewing the blog, write something that should be a TELL instead of a SHOW as a SHOW. And then write the same something as a TELL. Why is the Tell better than a show in this case?

My Attempt:

As a Show: The distance from the car to the front door contained only seventeen steps, not counting rounding the car. Since I parked backwards, that wasn’t as much of an issue as most days. The minivan took a while to walk around, at least four steps, more like six. I hopped out of the front seat, closed the driver’s side door, opened the passenger door, dragged out my lunch pail and purse after the long day of work. The front steps brought my quick walk to a pause. Age charges a toll, and the knees collect most of it. While I’m much more confident walking up the step than down them, gravity and balance strangely work in my favor mounting the trivial three steps, a pause to verify all the skills I need to walk up is still warranted. Yes, my body is willing to not be disrespectful of my inner vision of youth and verve today. One, two, three steps. After juggling the keys out of the purse while holding the lunch pail and the screen door, I unlock my front door and step inside. That’s when I notice the smell.

As a Tell: The long day at work gave me exhausted fits unlocking the front door while juggling my purse, my lunch pail (so I could save money to pay off my mortgage before I die of the old age my knees say I already reached), and the screen door. I’ll claim concentration on the task at hand as an excuse to my dying day for not noticing the smell. Someone else had reached their dying day sooner than me, and I don’t live with anyone. And yet, my living room contained a dead body.

Telling over showing: How I parked, walking from the car, all of that doesn’t matter to the story. The story is the dead body. I do need a little exposition to setup the character, but not 190 of them. Two sentences of 67 words is much better – even gave me room for two more sentences to set up the story premise after the character introduction and description. People pretty much know what it means to come home from a long day at work.

Show and Tell Series
Part 1 – 8/3/2023
Part 2 – 8/22/2023

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