The goal of a fiction writer is to bring a story to life so the reader will live the story rather than being told the story. Showing the story rather than telling the story makes all the difference. For example, you could tell the reader: Sally was angry at Bill. Or you could show the reader: Sally grabbed the vase and heaved it at Bill, aiming at his head.
Both sentences convey anger, but with showing the reader (the second version), the reader is plopped down right into that room and is dodging the flying vase with Bill. It’s a much more exciting way to experience a story. It will keep your reader’s interest, keep him/her turning pages, and keep people reaching for your writing.
Showing instead of telling in writing fiction is important for several reasons.
1. As in the above example, showing pumps life into the action. The characters in the story are moving about in real time and talking to each other. The writer could write, “Karen told Sally that she didn’t want to go out with Jeff.” Or the writer could have Karen tell Sally in dialogue such as “I wouldn’t go out with Jeff if he paid me a million bucks,” Karen said. In the second version, the reader becomes part of the conversation. As readers, we find it much more enjoyable to be in the scene rather than on the outside watching the scene.
2. In showing, the writer uses more dialogue and more action. These increase the pace of the book. We always hear how important it is for a book to be a page-turner. Showing readers what is happening is one way to turn your book into a page-turner.
3. Showing plays into the senses. Writing is often flat if you are telling the reader only the story. If a writer, through showing, brings in all the senses, each scene takes on added vividness. In showing, the reader is afforded information about what the characters see, hear, smell, feel, etc. This makes each scene more alive for readers.
4. Showing changes two-dimensional characters into three-dimensional characters. It’s easier to care about a three-dimensional character who moves fluidly through the story and engages the reader as well as other characters. If your characters are two-dimensional cardboard cutouts, your reader will have a more difficult time caring about them and what happens to them. Keep your characters alive by showing the readers what they are doing and what’s important to them.
The most important reason to use showing rather than telling is to increase the believability of your characters, their actions and your story.