It’s said often that when writing, you should show instead of tell, but no one really goes into detail on how to do this.

Well, here’s my attempt to explain.

Telling in writing is sort of a way of distancing your reader from the action. Such as, telling the reader “She felt affronted.” Or “He got ready and headed out the door.” These sentences aren’t passive voice exactly, but they’re not really juicy. They don’t give much depth into the character’s thoughts or motivations.

“She felt affronted” could be changed to: “She shifted her shoulders and looked away, refusing to dignify his statement with attention.” This way, you’re given more of an idea of what her “affronted” looks like. That way, next time he says something insensitive, she can grind her teeth, or haul off and punch him in the mouth since she’s had it up to here with his stupid face. Try describing her the way you would expect a cat to react if you laughed at them falling off something ungracefully. 

“He got ready and headed out the door” is a little more difficult as this sentence could work if you’ve already done enough explaining within the scene already. However by itself, its kind of a boring sentence. “He brushed his bangs back from his forehead and settled the bag on his shoulders. Grasping the door handle, he hesitated. Was he really ready? Someone pulled the door open from the other side. He squinted at the early morning sunlight. Well, ready or not, this was happening.”

This is by no means a hard rule to follow, but getting rid of the word “Was” from a sentence goes a long way towards making the action more action-y. “She was battered and bruised all over.” This could better be described as: “A bruise graced the left side of her face; blue and purple mixing with the fresh blood from her split lip. She walked with a limp, gripping her side. Still, her eyes shone with determination.”

If you have the opportunity to let the characters tell the story rather than you, the author, being too involved, then take it. The characters and their actions/reactions to the setting are why you’re writing anyway, right? If they’re not, go write a non-fiction book.