Training the Eye (finale): Showing and telling

Hi there!  

Did you recently finish writing a novel? Or, did you finish one a while ago and now you’re sitting on the manuscript, dreading going into the editing phase? I’m with you, on both counts. I have a few manuscripts that are completed, manuscripts I’m just sitting on until I have the oomph to actually edit them. Which means that I’m also always just about to enter a new round of editing.

So I might be just the person to tell you a bit about what goes into those edits, and the things you should be looking for as you train your eye in the art of editing. All month long, let’s discuss, shall we?


Training the eye to edit (finale)


It’s finale day in our series on training the eye while you edit, and today I want to talk about something from two different sides—because despite the fact that everyone always says it one way, there are two sides to everything.


1.      Telling, not showing

The thing everyone tells you: train your eye to make sure your story is shown, not told.

You all know this, if you’ve been writing for any length of time. You know that both writers and editors will tell you to make sure your story is always shown and never told. You know that story reads much more beautifully, more poetically, if it’s shown. You know that telling a story can turn into a boring read, because you’ll find yourself skipping over the important parts, the parts that allow your reader to connect with your story, in favor of telling in order to get to the scene you want to show.

So once again, I’ll tell you: train your eye to look for moments where you’re telling and not showing. Look for pieces of the story that could be better described, better shown, and fix them. Mend them. Allow your readers the chance to connect with every single little bit of your story, with every character and every event taking place, show them what it’s really like to live in the world in which you write.

It’s generally a fairly easy thing to train your eye to find, especially if you’ve been aware of this notion since you started writing.


2.      Showing, not telling 

The thing nobody tells you: train your eye to make sure you’re allowing yourself to tell the sections of your story that don’t need to be shown.

Yeah, I said it. There are parts of your story that shouldn’t be shown. It’s true, even if you never considered it before. Do you have any idea how long every story would be, if every little thing was shown and not told? They’d be as long as a lifetime. And that’s why we need to be okay with a little bit of telling, here and there.

So train your eye to look for moments where you can tell. It’s a tricky thing, because it’s a tricky balance between the two, but my best advice to you is to read. Read your favorite authors, and see how they do it. Look for moments where they’re telling and not showing, and see if you can mimic their method. It’s not stealing, I promise. Most of us would be flattered (or tell you who we stole the idea from) if you asked us.

Point is, you’ll need to train your eye to look for both. You need to be able to recognize the difference between showing and telling, and you need to be able to determine whether something ought to be shown or ought to be told.

It’s a long process. It’s a life-long process, if I’m being honest. But stick with it, and it’ll get easier along the way. I promise.


Rani Divine
Associate Editor, etc.