Show vs. Tell

I’ve realized that I’ve been “summarizing” some of my characters’ conversations when the content isn’t that important and I just want to get through it to the next, important part.

If you summarize a conversation by explaining what was said, rather than listing all the lines, is that “telling instead of showing?”


“Copper retraced her steps. ‘Come on, Shiloh!’ she called. ‘There’s something I need you to see on the ship!'”

That one ^ is the full version, versus the summarized version:

“Copper realized Shiloh would need to see it, too. She retraced her steps and called for Shiloh to follow her back to the ship.”

(Blog-style, with no tabs, always makes novel prose look funny. I’m not even going to bother breaking anything up there into paragraphs).

The point is, her calling for Shiloh is not important; what unfolds at the ship, however, is. So do I rush through it? Does it look bad by saying she calls for him instead of just showing it, when I could easily show it? Is additional dialogue a part of character development?


I ask because I’m almost finished with the rough draft of book 2 and I feel like parts of it really stink. Probably a good 10,000 to 20,000 words could be tossed out with no loss.

That’s depressing.

Not fully depressing… the point of the rough draft is to get the words out there and discover the true heart of the story. Other writers out there have habitually had to toss hundreds of thousands of words out, entire manuscripts even, and I’ll get to that point too. But right now… it’s still a little depressing. Some of it is plot-issues and some of it is writing-skill-issues. Whenever I’ve caught myself doing the summary thing (among other writing flaws), it sounds wrong, and I think “oh gosh, this means I’m not a good writer.” Luckily I have enough self-talk skills and perseverance to shut myself up and keep going.

Once I write the third and final book of the trilogy, I think it will help with the revision of this sluggish second draft a lot. In the same way I planned for this second book to inform my revision of the first one, when I finally get to write the third one (and all its exciting climactic moments), that will inform my revision of the middle book. I’ll figure out what truly needs foreshadowing–which I feel has wasted a lot of space by not being neatly introduced, I did it messily and I can tell–and can add in an adventure of its own. That’s part of the problem, feeling like “we had one adventure, and the next is to come.” The second book needs more action. My mantra has always been “raise the stakes!” And that worked out with the first book; in fact, my beta readers had to tell me to slow down and allow the reader to breathe, because all I’d done was ACTION dialogue ACTION dialogue ACTION ACTION ACTION RAAWR. This second installment really doesn’t have any of that suspense.

I have faith that I’ll figure out how to fix it… eventually.


1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “Show vs. Tell

  1. Ash

    My general action on the dialogue vs. summary decision is to first explore the possibilities any version of the natural dialogue has for character or story development. If the spoken words reveal nothing new about the character and do not lead toward the next plot point, then I have the option of tossing them. That being said, I tend to avoid summary when I can, and this is just what I do; by no means is it a hard and fast rule.

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