While the long-standing mantra in fiction writing is show, don’t tell, are there ever times when telling is just as good as (or even better than) showing?
I would argue that, yes, there are. And yesterday, in my post about showing, not telling, I even mentioned that there are a few times when telling is okay.
So what are those times? Here are three of them.
A lot of us suffer from it-takes-me-a-million-year-to-finish-my-first-draft-itis. One of the reasons getting that first draft done is so difficult for people is often that they (we?) spend way too much time on the details, when we should be working out the plot and character development.
A quick and easy solution to that problem is to simply stop focusing on the details. Get the scene written, get the novel finished and worry about the prose later. It’s perfectly acceptable to “tell” your way through your first draft. Nobody is going to be reading it anyhow. And then after you’ve finished the first draft, you can surely go back and rewrite the telling parts to be a little less telly.
To Change Pace
There may be some disagreement here, but I believe it’s not only okay, but possibly even preferred to do a little more telling when you hit an action scene. Too much showing can slow down a scene and when you want to speed things up and get the reader’s heart pounding, the last thing you want to be doing is slowing things down.
Take this example:
“Bill knew he didn’t have a clear shot. He pulled the trigger anyhow.”
It’s a mostly telling pair of sentences, but it gets the job done.
When the line is blurred
“Bob ran up the stairs.”
That sentence could come of as showing or telling, based on how it is used in the scene. If running up the stairs is the end of three or four similar sentences, like “Bob sat up in bed. He stretched. He heard the phone ring. He ran up the stairs,” then (besides being pretty bad writing) it’s clearly telling.
But if Bob is in the middle of something else downstairs and he learns of an emergency situation upstairs, then “Bob ran up the stairs” to see what what needed of him maybe be fine.
So in the end, I suppose it’s up to you. More often than not, it is better to show, not tell, but just be aware that it’s not always better.
Do you have some other examples of when telling may be better than showing? Leave a comment and let us know!