You know how to see if you’re telling too much instead of showing? No dialog.
One of the biggest mistakes I see as an editor is lack of dialog. Writers often tell me what someone said instead of letting the character say it himself, as if they are on some time limit and need to get the story out as quick as possible. There are a few problems with this.
First, it’s the writer’s voice the reader hears, not the character’s. You’re missing all kinds of opportunities to establish characterization, to give your character his own voice and sense of humor and style. Dialog is a great place to show quirks and mannerisms that make a character unique and memorable.
Second, from just a visual standpoint, the reader is seeing paragraph after paragraph of black blocks of type, and that’s intimidating. It’s a lot more appealing to dive into a mixture of sentence lengths, and that white space you get at the end of a paragraph lightens the copy.
Third, by giving the reader the shorthand version, you’re missing a chance to build a scene in the reader’s head. Dialog, physical motions, interactions between characters, descriptions of surroundings–all of those details paint a word picture, and the more realistic and complete that picture is, the better it act as an escape for the reader. Pull the reader out of the real world for awhile, take them somewhere or somewhen else, and you’ve done your job as a writer.
So next time you write something, double-check that you’re not skimping on the dialog, or that your dialog isn’t really sharp–funny, wringingly emotional, full of Southern charm, whatever. If you’re skimping on the good stuff, you’re probably not doing your best work.