Showing and Telling

The contrast between a Scene and a Summary also might be described as “showing” and “telling.” You may recall from your elementary school days an activity called “show and tell.” You held up an object and you talked about it. As adults, writing stories, we still need to “show and tell.”  Often this is a challenge.

In our conversations, we tell stories all the time. The showing part tends to be done with our hand gestures and facial expressions, and it works well. It conveys our meaning and our feelings as we lived through a particular experience.  Yet. of we take a dramatic or entertaining story that someone tells us and write it down word for word, the result will not be the same as we enjoyed during the listening. In fact, story might seem quite boring. Now we have the telling, but we do not have the showing. 

What is the difference? It’s the difference between watching a movie…and having someone tell us about it. Instead of seeing and hearing what’s happening, we just get a summary.


Telling: After Glenn’s death, I felt sad and lonely. I missed his steadying presence and his cheerful humour.

Showing:  I stare at my morning porridge. It is the same as I’ve been making for months, but now it appears dull and glutinous, even after I’ve drenched it with milk. It’s all I can do to dip the spoon in and raise it to my mouth. Glenn is not here to share it with me. His chair is empty, as is his bowl which I’ve set on the table out of habit and probably a need to feel his presence. I can almost hear his voice. 

“Oh, cheer up, Cheryl. Things could be worse.”

“So I cheered up,” I would always reply, “and they did get worse.”

It was a weathered old joke, but it always made Glenn laugh.

Now there is no laughter. Just silence. Silence and this drab bowl of cereal that I’m trying to eat.

* * * * *

The “Telling” example above is not wrong. If a brief summary is needed in one’s narrative, such narration might serve well. The “Showing” example, however, helps to bring alive the narrator’s feelings without ever saying “sad” or “lonely.”  It suggests a time and a place and more about the speaker’s personality.

Scene Writing Guidelines

Sample Scene 1

Sample Scene 2

Sample Scene 3

Showing and Telling

Incident and Phase