showing not telling – heard it all before?


To ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’, budding novelists are told, is the foremost rule of fiction. The first time I heard the phrase – spoken in tones of great solemnity, of course – I could make neither nose-tip nor tail-tip of it. More recently, I have tended to equate The Rule to ‘thou shalt not overuse adjectives and adverbs’. (Ideally, ‘thou shalt not use them at all’.) But Jack M. Bickham presents it far more vividly and logically:

Fiction can only involve and convince and excite readers if it lets them experience the story world the way they experience real life: by taking in stimuli and drawing their own conclusions.

You present evidence. You show; you don’t tell.

Jack M. Bickham, “Mastering fiction’s first rule”

 Let the reader peer through the POV character’s eyes, snuff through their nostrils, and run their fingers over the slimy, slippery rocks near the edge of the waterfall.

And yes, I know I’ve used an excessive amount of forbidden adjectives and adverbs for such a short post!