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Telling a Story vs. Showing a Story

A concept I have been teaching a friend of mine is the difference between telling someone what happened and showing them what happened. 


When you tell someone what happened, it can be as simple as: Jack ran.  You have communicated the idea you want your reader to have.  Jack moved from one location to another.  However, the way you communicate Jack’s movement directly impacts the reader’s enjoyment and mental picture. 



To illustrate my point, compare:


Jack saw his mark and ran to catch him.




Jack crouched in the alley behind a rusty green dumpster.  He scrunched his nose and breathed through his mouth to avoid the lingering musk of week old garbage.  He scanned the area closely looking for his mark.  Jack spotted the man in the black trench coat and red checkered scarf.  No one appeared to be tailing his markers. There was no sign of snipers along the rooftops. No one else showed any interest in the mark so Jack burst from his hiding place in pursuit of his target.  His long, athletic strides quickly closed the gap between the two men.


The essence of both excerpts is the same.  They both communicate to the reader that Jack saw his target and both say he ran to catch him.  However, the second example shows the reader what is happening and where.  It gives the reader a picture to visualize.


Look through your writing and find the places that simply tell the reader what is happening.  Replace those sections with a narrative that shows the reader.


How do you find the places you are telling the reader instead of showing in your writing? Let us know in the comments below.

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