By Boni Wagner-Stafford

June 1, 2023

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Unveiling the Art of Show & Tell in Writing

In this episode, authors and editors Marie Beswick-Arthur and Amie McCracken explore the delicate balance between showing and telling in writing, revealing the surprising ways in which the two techniques can — and should — actually complement each other.

Do you want to take your writing to the next level with a perfect balance of showing and telling? Look no further! Our podcast guests have the solution to enhance your storytelling with a harmonious blend of descriptive details and narrative clarity. Get ready to master the art of immersive and captivating writing.

One line of dialogue can talk about setting, can introduce a mood, advance a plot, and show you the character.

Boni Wagner-Stafford, publisher at Ingenium Books and co-host of the Ingenium Books podcast, welcomes guest experts Beswick-Arthur and McCracken to discuss the elusive art of balancing show and tell in writing. Both Marie and Amie are accomplished writers and editors, each bringing their unique perspectives and insights on the importance of creating engaging, powerful narratives. Beswick-Arthur’s expertise lies in crafting rich, multi-layered dialogue that serves as a workhorse for advancing the plot, while McCracken focuses on the intricacies of character development and the use of strong, active language. Together, these two literary professionals offer invaluable guidance to aspiring writers seeking to:

  • Comprehend the essential balance between show and tell for dynamic writing.
  • Learn how effective dialogue can convey complex layers of information.
  • Bypass repetitive writing and respect your reader’s intelligence.
  • Grasp impactful pacing techniques to accentuate emotions and events.
  • Obtain insightful resources and advice for refining show vs tell writing skills.

During this episode of the Ingenium Books Podcast, Boni, Marie, and Amie discuss the importance of balancing show and tell in writing.

  • The guests explained that showing allows readers to experience emotions and scenarios in a deeper way, while telling is a simpler approach that conveys what is happening without much detail.
  • Beswick-Arthur argued that dialogue is one of the most effective ways to show emotions and detail in writing,
  • McCracken believes that descriptive narration and even the absence of words can also show.
  • The speakers emphasized the importance of avoiding redundancy and trusting the reader to understand what is happening without being told explicitly.
  • They also discussed the value of pacing in writing and balancing show and tell for maximum impact in storytelling.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  • Grasp the significance of balancing show and tell in writing to captivate the reader.
  • Discover the potency of dialogue for communicating important details to the reader.
  • Avoid redundancy and cultivate trust within your readership.
  • Master the art of pacing to emphasize specific emotions and actions.
  • Learn about valuable resources and suggestions for honing show vs tell writing abilities.

Resources to improve Show vs. Tell

Continuous improvement and learning are essential aspects of honing the skills required to master the balance of show and tell in writing. There are various resources available to support writers in expanding their knowledge and refining their technique. Studying the works of award-winning authors and learning from their approaches can provide invaluable insights into the intricacies of balancing show and tell in storytelling.

During the podcast, Beswick-Arthur and McCracken shared some key resources that writers could employ to improve their show and tell abilities. They recommended books such as Show and Tell in a Nutshell by Jessica Bell and On Writing by Stephen King as valuable sources of guidance and inspiration. Additionally, the Ingenium Books team members offered feedback on excerpts read aloud during the show, demonstrating an interactive and practical approach to enhancing one’s writing abilities. By engaging with these resources and seeking continuous growth, writers can develop a solid foundation in balancing show and tell, ultimately elevating their storytelling skills.

Writing with a Balance of Show and Tell

A well-executed narrative employs a delicate balance of showing and telling, ensuring the text is engaging yet straightforward. Writers must be conscious of using each technique optimally, creating a seamless flow that immerses readers without congesting them with unnecessary information. Skilled writers understand when to evoke strong emotions by providing intricate descriptions and when to present vital details more directly for the sake of story progression. Beswick-Arthur discussed the incorporation of everyday elements such as a grocery list into the narrative to effectively showcase a character’s traits, mood, or current circumstances. Meanwhile, McCracken mentioned the importance of external readers in identifying inconsistencies in the balance of showing and telling. This collaboration with readers can help writers maintain the optimal balance between each technique, resulting in a well-rounded and engaging narrative.

Defining Show vs. Tell

To fully grasp the concepts of show and tell in writing, it is essential to understand their distinguishing characteristics. “Show” refers to a method of writing that provides readers with vivid, descriptive imagery that immerses them directly into the story. This technique lets readers explore emotions and situations with richness and depth, making the narrative more engaging. In contrast, “tell” is the practice of portraying events and actions with minimal elaboration, giving readers the necessary information to follow the story without lingering on excess details. During the podcast, Beswick-Arthur stressed the importance of trust between the writer and reader, demonstrating that readers could interpret body language and underlying meanings even when not explicitly detailed. McCracken agreed, highlighting the significance of avoiding redundancy and ensuring the story progression is not hindered by excessive descriptions. Both speakers acknowledged the need for a balanced approach, blending the power of showing with the simplicity of telling to create an engaging and intelligible narrative.

The resources mentioned in this episode:

Timestamped summary of this episode:
00:01:28 – Differing Points of View on Show vs Tell
The podcast explores differing views on the best ways to show vs. tell in writing. Marie argues that dialogue is the best way to show, while Amie believes that there are a range of ways to effectively show.
00:04:12 – Defining Show vs. Tell
The concept of show vs. tell is discussed, with Marie explaining that showing is used to slow the reader down and convey a lot of detail, while Amie describes telling as a simplified way of conveying information through description.
00:06:59 – Example of Telling
An example from a manuscript is shared, with both Marie and Amie cringing at the use of telling and unnecessary repetition in the writing.
00:12:37 – The Role of Naming Emotions
The role of explicitly naming emotions in writing is discussed, with Amie noting that it depends on the emphasis of the moment and where the reader’s attention should be directed.
00:18:47 – Writing with a Balance of Show and Tell
The guests discuss the importance of finding a balance between showing and telling in writing, as it makes for more active and interesting writing. However, it shouldn’t all be showing, and it’s essential to match up the character’s internal development with their dialogue for a cohesive story.
00:21:40 – Aligning Showing and Telling in Dialogue
The conversation transitions into a discussion about how to match up the amount of showing or telling with the character in dialogue. It’s difficult to see in one’s own writing, making it essential to have someone else point it out. Dialogue is always about the character, and it’s crucial to ensure they are in alignment.
00:23:06 – When to focus on Show vs. Tell
The guests discuss when writers should focus on showing vs. telling. While it depends on the individual writer’s process, it’s best to focus on it more on later drafts, but practicing these skills early can lead to better first drafts. Having someone else read and give feedback is also helpful.
00:25:47 – Resources to improve Show vs. Tell
The guests recommend the book “Show and Tell in a Nutshell” by Jessica Bell and “On Writing” by Stephen King as resources to improve showing vs. telling skills in writing. They also suggest comparing one’s work side-by-side with a comparable piece by a well-written author and doing word searches for overused words.

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