In fiction writing, to show means to allow the reader to experience the scene rather than telling him about it. Telling the reader is just that: Jon runs down the highway. Whereas showing describes that experience: A car zips past Jon, causing his hair to blow. He looks down at his vest, making sure the highway reflectors are facing the right way. On the side of the highway, the gravy slides under his strides. Only 3 miles more and he’s home.

When people hear show versus tell, they think that the problem is the author needs to show more. Actually, it seems half the books on fiction writing are dedicated to this topic, how to show, not tell. But my problem is the opposite. I need to learn when to NOT show and just tell the reader.

Take the example above. You would choose what to write based on the purpose of the scene. If Jon is training for a marathon then the latter could be better. If the scene is about a family dinner and we need Jon to get home, just tell it: he ran home.

Here’s another common mistake I make. I recently wrote:

With a sudden urge to avoid eye contact at all costs, my head moved carefully towards Dave for guidance — who with a spoonful of rice reached out to fist-bump Tony.

Again, what’s the purpose? Here it’s better to just say I looked towards Dave.

Last example:

Show: Tony relieved his fork and squeezing each knuckle against the table, he elevated his statue over the common eating area.

Tell: Tony dropped his fork and stood up.

The trick is to keep the emotion that I was looking for, while not having so much fluff. Here that balance is this: Tony dropped his fork and lifting himself up with his knuckles, he rose to his feet.

The art of writing is finding that balance. Going forward, in the first and second drafts I want to focus on too much detail and too much showing, seeking the tone and the emotion in each paragraph, then keeping this blog in mind, I’ll cut it to pieces. I will only keep what serves the scene. And with a little luck and a lot of hard work, I’ll find the art.