The Path to Show and Not Tell

I’ve been seeing some confusion about show and not tell amongst new writers. Again. I’m not a guru but here is how I learned it.

Tell = To summarize dramatic events. To gloss over  In affect, after you read it you may think, “Wow I wish I could have experienced that.”

Show = Imagine a play/script but with all the literary workings of the six senses. Or not, depending on your style. Most importantly you are leading the reader by the nose through an event, a key dramatic moment, emotional beats that will make them move forward through the story.

But what are beats?

Beats are verbs with to in front of them.

Example: To confuse, to comfort, to humiliate.

Beats make your story. Your character has one beat and they use many beats to fulfill the main one.

Of course your antagonists have beats. And when they conflict with your protagonists they will cause….CONFLICT.

The experienced writer will have said beats buried in their subconscious or know them off the top of their head. But when stuck will think about them in verbs. New writers should always be thinking about them. It’s their path to show and not tell.

Now you don’t have to show all the time. Nothing wrong with a little telling. It just depends where you do it. Maybe you want to speed the story up. Maybe you don’t want to repeat a show you just did before. Or tell a past moment that happened before the story. I don’t know. Use discretion. Use your style. Use your instinct. But if it’s a heavy moment, something you’re scared to write, something that reveals a part of yourself, then you should definitely show it.

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