Writers are continually told to show, don’t tell. Yet there are times when it’s good to tell rather than show. The problem is knowing when you should ‘show’ and when you should ‘tell’ and knowing how to successfully do each.
Moving On To The Action
She barely had time to make toast for breakfast before she headed to work.
There are times when you need to move from one scene to the next and you don’t want to slow the story down. Briefly telling the reader what happens between scenes can allow you to move onto the main plot of the story without slowing things down or providing unnecessary filler.
It’s A Story, Not A How-To
She took the bread out of the fridge and put it in the toaster. It was all she’d have time for if she didn’t want to be late to work.
Readers don’t need step-by-step instructions for most things. They know how to make toast, as well as how to do many other things. Unless it’s something out of the ordinary, don’t go into great detail. Move onto the things that matter to the story. Briefly tell the reader what happened in as few words as possible so as not to bore them so they can move onto the next scene of importance without being jarred from the story or being lost as to how the character ends up at the next scene.
When It Matters To The Story Or Character
She held the door of the fridge open, the cold air doing little to help with the already muggy day. She needed to keep moving or she’d be late for work. Yet she couldn’t help staring at the jar of Vegemite she’d revealed when she’d grabbed out the loaf of bread. How long was it going to take to erase every trace of him? How long until the pain of his betrayal stopped flooding through her and making her hate herself more than she’d grown to hate him? Grabbing the jar from the fridge, she stepped away from it as the door swung shut, dropping the bread on the kitchen bench in front of the toaster. Opening the bin at the end of the bench she threw the jar in. The sound of it colliding with the other rubbish was satisfying. Yet it didn’t help. She wasn’t sure what would.
The scene now creates backstory for the main character, gives setting, hints at the country the story could be set in and the time of year. The character’s actions and thoughts show us what she’s feeling and gives us a glimpse of her surroundings as she interacts with them.
Show, Don’t Tell
Showing is all about drawing the reader into the story and letting them experience it along with the character. Letting them feel the emotions the character is feeling rather than being told they’re scared, happy or angry. Letting the reader see the environment through the eyes of the character and their actions rather than having large passages of description that risk drawing the reader from the story.