Show, Don't Tell
Show, don't tell is the keystone of fiction and it means exactly what it says — show the readers through your words; don't just tell them about it. You'll rely upon description, dialogue, and action to help achieve this aim. Showing rather than telling is not only more effective in getting the reader to remember and believe what she is reading; it also makes for a more enjoyable reading experience. And for the same reasons, showing and not telling applies to creative nonfiction.
How to show in lieu of telling is the stuff of writing workshops, classes, and writers' groups — things you'll be informed about in Chapter 24. You'll also be given an exercise at the end of this chapter to practice this very important skill. But for now, just remember while you are writing to keep that third eye on the lookout to see if what you are composing can be shown instead of being told. And when you rewrite and edit, keep this in mind as well.
In nonfiction, show, don't tell is used less frequently than in fiction not only because of the difference in writing style but for a practical reason as well. It takes more words to show rather than tell and in nonfiction more attention has to be paid to word count, so showing must be used more sparingly.
Don't Disregard Telling
Some of the best fiction is filled with telling and this mode has been a hallmark of some of the greatest novelists. When this occurs it is because the writer's voice is so compelling that the reader is receptive to being addressed. In nonfiction, there is even greater occasion to make effective use of your voice, thus reinforcing the importance of the telling portion of your prose. Showing in place of telling is a technique you should employ when and where it is most effective to do so. If the telling portion of your narrative doesn't seem to be working, don't try to fix it by showing but rather work on your voice and apply other means to polish your prose.
There are also times when showing is inappropriate, such as when you are providing information to the reader. This is especially true of nonfiction, in which informing the reader is one of the primary purposes of the project.