You’re going to see this, a lot, if you’re starting out or struggling as a writer and you get up the gumption to put your work in front of the eyes of another human being. Show, don’t tell. At the most basic level, it means you should always have characters doing things and events happening in such a way that the audience is shown what is going on, instead of simply telling them.

I can tell you from experience that it isn’t always obvious. We can’t always look at our own work and say “Oh, yeah, I’m telling the hell out of this and need to be showing more.” Sometimes, yes. Other times we’re too focused on other things, such as conveying what we feel is enough information, or getting through a tedious portion of the story to get to the “good stuff”. I know it’s a trap I’ve fallen into before and probably will again.

I really don’t feel I can give a lot of advice on this, as it’s something I myself struggle with, but when I’m told I’m telling instead of showing, there are a couple things I do in an attempt to alleviate the issue. I include more dialog, or inject more action.

They’re really two parts of the same solution, as characters doing something is always preferable to them doing nothing. And if you’re rattling off expository information and doing little else, your characters are idle. Show them in motion. Engage them in conversation. Weave the information you need to convey into other elements, from small talk to gunfights, in order to show your meaning instead of just telling it to the audience.

Your characters, after all, are what they do, and how they say what they say is often just as important as the words coming out of their mouths. The more you show them in action, the more they come alive for your audience and the less exposition is necessary. Writing the words “He felt frustrated” doesn’t have quite the same impact as “He frowned, turned away from the equipment and kicked the wall hard enough to leave a crack.”

Do you have other examples? Classic literature, modern movies, something of your own? How do you show instead of telling?