It’s sound advice. A creative writer ought to show the reader what is happening in a story instead of telling or explaining too directly. Overtelling can make a novel read like a screenplay treatment.
The exception that immediately comes to mind occurs when an engaging and intriguing narrator recounts a story in a particular, even peculiar, manner that indirectly reveals parts of the hidden narrative. The narrator then becomes a significant character in the story. Too many writers unconsciously are the narrators of the books they write, when they would do better to invent more compelling doppelgängers.
Any truly creative writer can break the “show, don’t tell” rule to marvelous effect, but it won’t be easy.
For the aspiring author who is trying not to hit the reader over the head, following are a few convincing explanations of “show, don’t tell,” which, by the way, also can be effective in journalism. Read these posts in descending order if you need to grapple with the concept of “show, don’t tell.” I’ve attempted to list the simplest explanations first.
4 Questions To Ask Before Self Publishing (See questions 2 and 4.)
by Beth Bacon
Ask the editor: Trusting the reader
by Alan Rinzler
Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs
by Chuck Palahniuk
Stop Explaining Your Story (And Start Showing It)
by Janice Hardy
Don’t Explain, Don’t Explain, Don’t Explain
by Beth Hill
How to Apply the Advice to “Show, Don’t Tell”
by Nick Daws
Another reminder that, even when showing, less is more
Overtelling, Overshowing, Overselling
by Jane Lebak
For extra credit: an allusion “is not a shout-out”
The quality of allusion is not google
by Nicholas Carr
Comprehending the rationale behind “show, don’t tell” can allow a writer to feel less coerced by critics and more in control of the creation. That’s how the reader prefers to feel, too—like a co-creator.
If you find any of the listed articles particularly helpful, then by all means go thank their authors. Praise is in short supply these days.