One of the keys behind good writing is “show, don’t tell.” The difference between “showing” and “telling” itself can be hard to tell, but it creates the difference between engaging storytelling and mechanical plot description.
Implied action and emotion can go a long way. Saying, “It was very scary” will let the reader know on a conscious level that the situation is scary. But to describe the details of the scary situation lets the reader fill in the gaps themselves with their own imagination. This strikes the reader at an emotional, rather than intellectual, level.
To demonstrate this, I’d like to present Emily Carroll’s excellent short comic, “His Face All Red”. I’d recommend you read it (which takes 5 minutes) on her website before continuing with this post.
While a format comic does make “show, don’t tell” easier to do since it doesn’t entirely rely on text, The following text has spoilers, so read the comic before continuing.
“His Face All Red” uses a lot of showing and only a little telling. Let’s look at each panel individually.
The panels show the isolation and lack of popularity of the protagonist. This is cemented by the line “This man is not my brother.” which emphasizes the lack of relationship (while at the same time implying that the man should be his brother). The story does not tell, “My brother is more popular than I am.” or “This man is an imposter.”