Show, Don't Tell

The problem that many young writers have is that they want to tell the reader what happens rather than show them. Before I explain, consider the difference between these two sentences:

Shannon was angry. She couldn't believe her boyfriend would cheat on her.

Tears stream down Shannon's reddened face. She tried to say something, but instead of deciding what to say she just let out a series of grunts and screeches. Fists clenched at her side, she finally screamed, "That two-timing jerk! He will die!"

What's the difference between the two? They both "say" the same thing. The difference is that the second one shows the reader that Shannon is angry rather than tells the reader. Not once did the second sentence actually tell the reader that Shannon is angry or even why she is angry. Instead, the writer painted an image of the scene with his words. As a reader, we can actually better imagine the scene and what is happening. Compare it to a movie director just saying, "Okay, in the next scene the heroine gets kidnapped. Let's move on," and actually seeing the kidnapping happen. As a writer, you can make sure that the reader sets his/her sights on the details that are important to you and your story.

Look at the following pairs of paragraphs. How does showing instead of telling help make the description more effective?

Paragraph Pair 1:

A. Ed Johnson scratched his head in confusion as the sales rep explained Dralco’s newest engine performance diagnostic computer. The old mechanic hated modern electronics, preferring the old days when all he needed was a stack of manuals and a good set of tools.

B. “That Ed Johnson,” said Anderson, watching the old mechanic scratch his head in confusion as the sales rep explained Dralco’s newest engine performance diagnostic computer. “He hasn’t got a clue about modern electronics. Give him a good set of tools and a stack of yellowing manuals with a carburetor needing repair, and he’d be happy as a hungry frog in a fly-field.”

Paragraph Pair 2:
Julie owned a multitude of outfits and accessories, and it always took her forever to decide which combination might impress Trent. As usual, she called her sister several times for advice. After doing so, Julie decided to give the navy blue skirt with the white sweater a try.

B. Julie held up six different outfits in front of the mirror and pondered which would go best with her navy blue shoes, pastel eye shadow and the diamond earrings she’d already procured from her overflowing vanity. After ninety minutes of mixing and matching, and cell-phoning her sister three times for advice, Julie finally made up her mind. She’d give the navy blue skirt and white sweater a try, hoping Trent would love it.