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never show AND tell

Updated: Oct 27, 2023

Back in grade school I dreaded show and tell. I never had anything interesting to show or tell except my pet turtle, Herman. And they wouldn't let me bring him in.

When we learn about writing we are always being told to "show," not "tell." Essentially it means that readers like to see the action or hear the dialogue as opposed to being told about what happened. We also call this "exposition" because it exposes the reader to what is happening or has happened.

But be careful because it's easy to do both, show and tell, and that is a no-no.

An example is when you describe something, then insert dialogue that represents that action:

Tom and Sally spoke about their day at the theatre and how they felt about the play. Tom was less enthusiastic than Sally.

"I just loved that play!" said Sally.

"Hmmm.... I'm not sure I agree. I think it could have been shorter." said Tom.

What purpose does the the dialogue serve here? None.

Either omit the leading sentence, or omit the dialogue.

I would omit the leading sentence because the dialogue shows me who these people are. As in real life, what people say teaches us who they are (or want us to think they are!)

And again, readers like dialogue. I bet you do too.

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