Book Review: Showing and Telling in Fiction

I finished reading Showing and Telling in Fiction by by Marcy Kennedy a few months ago, and have been meaning to review this excellent how-to guide since I put it down. Eliminating 'telling' is an issue I needed a lot of help with to fully understand and overcome in my own writing, and this book has helped set me in the right direction. In a nutshell, the classic argument states that writing that shows the reader what is happening is more compelling, engaging, and descriptive than writing that tells the reader what is happening (or has already happened).

"Chapter One defines showing and telling and explains why showing is normally better."

Showing and Telling in Fiction begins by clearly explaining what defines showing and telling, the differences between them, and why showing is (usually) the preferred choice for exciting, engaging prose. If you like to know the reason behind the rule, you'll find this part satisfying.

"Chapter Two gives you eight practical ways to find telling that needs to be changed to showing and guides you in understanding how to make those changes."

Understanding the differences between showing and telling is just the first step in addressing the problem. Chapter Two provides practical techniques to easily spot weak writing in your own manuscript. By identifying the 'red flags' of telling, the book teaches you to recognize the signs in your manuscript.

"Chapter Three explains how telling can function as a useful first draft tool."

Kennedy states that using telling to write your first draft may help you capture your story, which can then be edited in the ensuing drafts to turn telling sections into showing. If you're struggling to write your draft by 'showing' everything, using 'telling' to get the words out of your head may be a useful technique. Although I understood the point of this chapter, I'm personally not going to intentionally experiment with the technique, as I've had so much trouble with this issue, I'm trying to avoid writing 'telling' prose whenever I can.

"Chapter Four goes in-depth on the seven situations when telling might be the better choice than showing."

Obviously, writing that is 100% showing is not the goal of this book. In certain situations, telling can be more effective and appropriate than showing. This chapter shows you opportunities for using telling effectively to make your story flow cohesively.

"Chapter Five provides you with practical editing tips to help you take what you've learned to the pages of your current novel or short story." 

An apt finish to Showing and Telling in Fiction provides you methods to attack your manuscript efficiently, and offers a link to print versions of the revision checklists.

In summary, this concise (88 pages) instructional tome is full of examples and techniques, light on fluff and filler, and currently has a 4.8 star rating on Amazon (48 reviews). I'd definitely recommend this book if you struggle with any part of the showing versus telling battle.

If you found this review helpful, links to some other writing guides I've reviewed are listed below: