At first it seems obvious; audiences need to understand the story, both in the concrete sense of “what is actually happening”, and the more abstract level of ideas, themes, and overall meaning. “What is the story about?” “What is the story trying to say” These are important questions to consider when editing a story.
Techniques for Showing
Showing is reserved for the important parts of the story. Showing is the technique of using specific details to imply one or more underlying meanings. The advantage is that it’s very engaging for the audience, but over time it can prove tiring, as audiences struggle to understand the significance of the text.
Techniques for Telling
Telling is the technique of summarizing or plainly stating something. Examples include summaries of events (they fought), the physical state of an object or environment (the room was a mess), or the mental, emotional, or moral state of a character (she was happy). Telling is often dismissed as bad writing, but the reality is it’s an essential writing technique. Telling helps to maintain the focus of a story by conveying essential information using a minimum of words. The technique itself denotes a hierarchy. “What I’m telling you is necessary, but it’s not important.” Telling is a way of establishing that the focus of the story lies elsewhere.
“Show, don’t tell” is common phrase that attempts to oversimplify a complex topic. “Show” and “Tell” are both essential for good writing. They represent complimentary techniques for writing prose. It is true that telling is often easier, and as a result it’s frequently over used, but both have their place in writing.