“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
― Anton Chekhov
This quote is short and to the point but it demonstrates one of the most difficult areas of fiction writing we all have to master. It’s so easy to add too many words when describing a scene and to tell the reader what they are seeing. Reading paints a picture in our minds but that image comes from clever hints. These allow us to see a different picture to any other reader and perhaps even the writer.
“The climb was steep and he was breathless by the time he reached the top” That line tells the reader everything, but if we remove “The climb was steep and” we still have sufficient information in the phrase to intrigue the reader.
“He was breathless by the time he reached the top” shows all the same information but allows the reader to wonder why he was breathless. Was it a steep climb? Is he unwell?Is he scared? Is he being chased?
We want the reader hooked and not only to continue with the story but to be consumed by it. If we tell them everything they will probably not finish the book and certainly won’t want to buy another book you write.
So remember to show not tell