Fiction writers know this is a premise of good writing, but what does it really mean?
A writer can show rather than tell in two major different ways–action or dialogue. To illustrate, I’ve used excerpts from the novel I’m currently working on, To the Limit.
Telling: She saddled her mare.
Her dog, Axe, raced toward the mare and nipped at her heels. The horse turned and cantered toward the dog, head low and teeth bared. He tucked his tail in tight and raced back to Riley. Obviously seeking her protection, he stood between her legs and stared up at the horse, who had come to a stiff-legged halt in front of them. “That’s enough playing, you guys.” Riley reached out and stroked the muscled neck, slid the halter over the horse’s nose and ears and fastened the buckle.
Back in the barn, Riley brushed her until her coat gleamed like liquid gold, and lifted each hoof in turn to clean them out with a hoofpick. She smoothed the saddle blanket on the mare’s back and hefted the saddle on top of it. She slid it around until she was satisfied it was seated correctly. The mare flattened her ears and nipped the air when Riley pulled the cinch tight. She loosened the halter, slipped the bit into the horse’s mouth and gently pulled the bridle over her ears.
Telling: The rain sheeted down and Riley suggested they head for a nearby cowboy cabin.
Rain pelted down in heavy drops that stung when they landed. Lightning bolts split the sky all around them. Riley pulled the mare to a halt and turned to him. “You should have gone and left me here.” She shouted over the deluge.
“We need to find some shelter,” he yelled back.
“There’s a cowboy cabin up ahead. The roof probably leaks, but it’ll help a little.” Lightning lit up the sky on the ridge in front of them and thunder boomed. The mare threw her head up and danced sideways.
“Go on, lead the way. That was a little too close for comfort. I’ll follow you.” He waved her ahead.
She stroked the mare to calm her and urged her forward. After a few minutes, the cabin came into view, fuzzy through the sheeting rain. She dismounted and he took the reins from her.