What is this show-don’t-tell thing anyway?
‘Show don’t tell’ is arguably the one thing most new authors struggle with the most.
It’s something I find myself explaining again and again.
One of my recent clients simply could not get the hang of even differentiating between show and tell. It’s the same thing! she would say to me, frustrated.
I showed her many examples, but it was not until we looked at this scene from the first Harry Potter book that she really got it. (She was a massive Potter fan!)
The scene where Harry enters Ollivander’s for the first time is one I often use to illustrate the show-don’t-tell concept to new writers. The scene paints the room in great detail, but not simply by describing what Harry sees.
Every aspect is introduced through setting the atmosphere (dusty, dark, magical) and establishing how Harry is interacting with his surroundings (his thoughts and impressions as he looks around).
Some quick hacks to avoid ‘telling’:
1. Describe scenes through characters’ senses.
2. Use dialogue.
3. Focus on action.
4. Use strong verbs, not adverbs and adjectives.
5. Be specific, not general.
Got it? If not, feel free to pop me a question!