The mantra "Show, don't tell" has become stock advice for fiction-writers; proponents abound. Janet Evanovich considers it one of the most important principles of fiction. ". . . instead of stating a situation flat out, you want to let the reader discover what you're trying to say by watching a character in action and by listening to his dialogue. Showing brings your characters to life.
Not all writing coaches and bestselling authors agree that "Show, don't tell" is sound advice. According to Renne Browne and Dave King, narrative summary has its uses, the main one being to vary the rhythm and texture of writing. Narrative summary can also be useful where the story has a lot of repetitive action. Also, some plot developments are simply not important enough to justify scenes. As indicated by Peter Selgin, the main advantage of summary is that it takes up less space.
According to Orson Scott Card, "showing" is so terribly time consuming that it is to be used only for dramatic scenes. The objective is to get the right balance of telling versus showing, action versus summarization. Either could be right; either could be wrong. Factors like rhythm, pace, and tone come into play. The issue of when to "show" and when to "tell" is subject to ongoing debate.
Instead of telling:
the writer could show:
Showing dramatizes a scene in a story to help the reader forget he is reading, to help the reader get to know the characters, to make the writing more interesting. "It is the difference between actors acting out an event, and the lone playwright standing on a bare stage recounting the event to the audience.
Showing requires more words; telling may cover a greater span of time. A novel that contains only showing would be incredibly long; therefore, a narrative can contain some legitimate telling. Scenes that are important to the story should be dramatized with showing, but sometimes what happens between scenes can be told so the story can make progress. For example, if George is a character in a story, he could do the following things:
The writer could show the arguments with George's boss and girlfriend, but tell the reader George drove over to his girlfriend's house without excess narrative. As long as nothing important to the story happens on that drive, then the writer need only tell the reader.
The writer may also want to use telling to reveal to the reader that the narrator of the story (see point-of-view) is not reliable. The narrator may say that George is a great guy, but later George reveals himself to be a jerk through showing. Then the reader can decide that the narrator of this story doesn't see George for who he is.
There is also the crucial point made by poet and essayist Mario Petrucci that, "expert telling, if it's used sparingly and is utterly earned by the author, may embody an emotive or psychological moment just as effectively as showing".
Francine Prose (author of Blue Angel and Reading Like a Writer) says of the rule: "[The Alice Munro passage] contradicts a form of bad advice often given young writers--namely, that the job of the author is to show, not tell. Needless to say, many great novelists combine 'dramatic' showing with long sections of the flat-out authorial narration that is, I guess, what is meant by telling. And the warning against telling leads to a confusion that causes novice writers to think that everything should be acted out... when in fact the responsibility of showing should be assumed by the energetic and specific use of language.