The Myth of Show Don't Tell

If you take enough writing courses you'll hear the phrase, "Show, don't tell." Most writers probably hear this phrase quoted as the gospel truth in the first course they take. The idea that stories are shown and not told is misleading. Stories are told. Stories are told and shown, shown and told, told and shown. Narration, either in the form of a visible or invisible narrator, tells the story, contextualizing the characters, settings, and dramatic issues, allowing the reader to understand what’s going on when dropped into a scene. The primary level of narrative is not the scene, it's narration. It's someone telling us a story that (most often) includes scenes of action, but isn't strictly limited to scenes of action. So first comes the telling, then the showing. Writers get into trouble when they tell scenes, rather than show them, and when they fail to find an engaging narrative voice for telling.