Show, don’t tell is a technique that fiction writers learn when they start writing. I can’t remember how long ago I heard it or where. And over the years you still hear it in workshops and writing articles. It’s one of the foundations of writing. Many of us struggle with the difference and when I get edited there’s often still a comment about “not telling.”
You don’t use an adjective, summarize or describe the event. You pull the reader into your story with action words, thought, senses and feelings. The concept has been attributed to Anton Chekov. Apparently, he wrote to his brother and said, “In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes, he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.”
Focus on actions and reactions, use strong verbs, not adverbs or adjectives, and play to the readers senses to draw them into the story and feel the characters emotions and the setting.
If your character is tall, don’t say – He was tall. (Tell) Say something like he ducked under the doorway when he entered the room. (Show)
Anger can be show by describing the character slamming his fist, raising his voice or the color of his face reddening.
Here’s one a little more complex. When he hugged her, she knew he had been smoking and was nervous. (Tell)
She wrapped her arms around him. The stale mustiness of a pipe enveloped her, and he shivered. (Show)
Here’s one more. It was fall. (Tell) He scuffled through the piles of leaves. They crunched under his feet. (Show)
Show don’t tell sounds easy, but it can be difficult to apply and easy to slip it into a story, but it makes it so much better for the reader.