How to Use Telling (Not Showing) to Enhance Your Novel



hey guys it's Ellen Brock novel editor today I'm going to talk about how to use telling instead of showing to enhance your novel now I know you're all scared that I'm about to be smited by the gods of writing but there are situations where it does not make sense to try to use showing and telling is a better option of course if you can show something it is almost always the better option you shouldn't rely on telling just because it's easier or simpler because showing really will improve engagement but there are some things that just doesn't make sense to try to show to your reader for example if there was a famine caused by mutant mealworms 40 years ago and the economy is still recovering how are you going to show that to the readers you can show that the fields are all chewed up or you can show that people are really struggling financially but that doesn't really explain why it happened why people are in this situation you could have your character watch an educational film about the great mealworm famine but at that point you're really just telling in a different way the general rule that I recommend following is if you would need to add a scene and it would be fairly contrived or irrelevant other than that it would show a piece of information it's probably okay to just go ahead and tell that information that's probably the easier choice so once you're certain that you need to tell a piece of information I have a step-by-step process that you can use to do that in the best possible way so that you don't bore the reader or really so the reader won't even notice that you're telling it all of course as you get better at this you don't really need to go through the steps every time it will become second nature it will become a lot easier as you get more practice at it step number one is to determine why you're including the information in the first place is it important to the plot is it vital for the reader to know this piece of information so that things make sense later on or is it just to enhance the mood or the atmosphere of the stories or they just include it as a fun bit of fantasy or sci-fi or creativity just to make the reading experience more engaging if you're including something just for fun make sure that it's actually fun to read about something like tax exemptions for ninja warriors or the complete anatomy of a creature that only described on one page is not going to be very engaging for the readers that number two is to figure out if you need the fact or the story one of the biggest mistakes that can lead to information overload is when instead of providing a relevant fact you provide the entire story behind the fact so for example do readers need to know that a face-melting laser-beam exists the fact or do they need to know who invented it and why this story behind it if you include the story when all you really need is the fact your writing is going to get really bloated and overwhelming and readers are probably going to get bored an example of a situation where you might need the story behind something is if orcs won't use the face-melting laser beam because it was invented by warlocks and orcs hate warlocks then the story behind it is relevant if the reader just needs to know that this face-melting laser beam exists then all you need to do is state the fact you do not need to explain the entire story behind it how it was invented where it came from etc step3 is assessing what is the bare minimum that the reader needs to know what is the smallest amount of information you can provide so that the reader still gets the same effect so they still understand what you're explaining or if it's intended to set the mood or the atmosphere that they still get that sense of mood and atmosphere what is the bare minimum most of the time you don't want to go on and on conveying a lot of details because readers will get bored so figure out the bare minimum that you need to explain explain that and move on step four is assessing what the reader needs to know right now readers may need to know the information eventually but they might not need to know it at this point but at the same time you don't want to introduce things out of the blue way late in the story for example if Holograms exist in your world you don't want to introduce that for the first time 60% into the story it should be mentioned early on but breaking up the information and conveying what the reader needs to know what various points can help you to not get stuck explaining long stretches of telling and can help you to move on more quickly for example if in your story it's important that readers understand that Holograms exist you could show a hologram in the background of a scene maybe in an advertisement or something that isn't very substantial or prominent and that just gets it into the readers head that Holograms exist and that helps your world building which you want to establish early on but readers probably don't need to understand more details than that to understand the first quarter of the story so then as time moves on in the second quarter or in the third quarter you might then introduce more specific details so maybe later on you explain who the creator of the hologram was or how a hologram works in detail assuming that information is relevant to your story in some way and that helps you to separate that information so that at the beginning of the story in the early parts you're not getting bogged down in explaining things because you don't want a whole bunch of explanations at the beginning of the story that can make the reader disengage and it can be hard to get the kind of hooks that you want seven over five is integrated into action the main reason that telling tends to be a problem is because it feels like the writer has just hit the pause button and starts going on and on about information just that they think that you need to know and that's not very engaging because it doesn't have any relevance to the current scene there's no connection and so the reader doesn't really have any reason to care and that's disconnection that's what causes telling to be an issue so when you incorporate the telling into the active scene somehow when you attach it to the action becomes a lot more interesting and engaging and the reader probably won't even notice that you're telling at all for example if you need to introduce the specific ingredients of a potion you could have your character go into a potion shop as part of a scene part of a scene that advances the plot and maybe he accidentally knocked over a sleeping potion and in the narration or in his thoughts you can convey while the shopkeeper must be frustrated because Dragonheart is the main ingredient in that potion and it's really hard to come by all of a sudden you've told something to the reader and the reader doesn't even really notice because it's part of the scene it feels wrapped up in what's going on this idea still works even if you need to tell something a bit longer where the story rather than the fact is important for example maybe you need to explain that several people died of an overdose from this potion you can explain that in the same way so your protagonist could go accidentally knock the potion over sort of recoiled from it out of fear and then in the narration or even in the dialogue you could explain he doesn't want anything to do with this potion because last year a few people died from taking too much connecting the information to something occurring in the current scene is a great way to hide the fact that you're telling something to the reader most readers will never notice that you're telling something and your writing will feel very smooth and natural if you do it well especially if you take a layered approach where you introduce things and then develop on what the reader knows over time and if you connect that information to something happening in an active scene you can get away with quite a bit of telling and still have perfectly smooth nice easy to read story I really hope the kids in this video helped you to understand how you can tell more effectively and how telling can help you to enhance your story if you have any questions please put it in the comments this video is in part of my novel boot camp series I'll be making a new video three to four days per week throughout August I'll also be hosting free workshops on my blog so if you want to come check that out I'll put the link in the description happy writing guys

22 thoughts on “How to Use Telling (Not Showing) to Enhance Your Novel

  1. I've never seen a wit of difference between telling and showing. It is a distinction without a difference if your writing is interesting enough.

  2. That pause thing you talk about is what happened to me in the book I'm reading right now. An Ann Rice book, Lasher. It has like… 50% of the book, in the middle, there's this ghost who tells the backstory of an evil creature. It's bloody boring, it's sooo long, it's about dead characters and you're left wanting for the characters that you care about "now". Put me right out of the flow of reading it.

  3. I am sometimes unsure of the difference between showing and telling. I mean… I'm writing it all… ? O_o Is telling when you're giving information about things, but it's not what the characters are doing, saying, thinking etc? Like, explaining or giving backstory to something?

  4. Tell = Narrative, Show = Dialogue, there are times where characters are not available for dialogue and one has to tell the reader something. While this is not a "rule" I follow, I do like its vibe. I think of showing like the screenplay part of my story. Can I change part of a narrative into dialogue if what I ask myself. Hopefully these mindsets are on track for success?

  5. So basically, be as subtle as possible and convey the info in inventive and smooth ways to interest and inform the reader?

  6. You do it speech β€œ twenty years since the famine and the fields still haven’t recovered, β€œ he said kicking the dust off his boots

  7. Now all I care about is this face melting laser and if orcs really won't use it. Did it cause the great mutant meal worm famine?

  8. How do I avoid going overboard with long stories? I have this problem, that I want my characters to tell something about their past but often it turns into a monolog where they go on and on and on about it and I don't know how to fix this. I mean, in real life some people will let you talk hours on end and just listen but I know thats not the majority. Most of the time those flash backs work well in movies but how can I do this in writing without boring my readers or leaving half of the flashback out?

  9. Especially when writing fantasy, sci-fi or historical fiction, where you're dealing with large amounts of information, it's impossible to show everything.

  10. One of the best examples of writing stories behind facts is in detective fiction, as clues, evidence, etc, are often hints to motivations behind the actions of characters, and are part of the fun when unraveling the story.

  11. Lives someone in that house on your shelve? I hope so, it would be interesting to hear about how those shelve people are ticking. Do you need to feed them? Obviously they will not run out on things to read right away but do you still need to cleanup the place or can they take care of them self? Maybe — just in the night, while you are sleeping — they will leave the shelve and sneak around … would it be mean to setup a trap? No! not that kind of trap … just for catching a photo of a shelve-citizen. Imagine to what intriguing story that could lead to πŸ™‚

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