I recently read the question "What does show don't tell actually mean?" and in the answers, there were a few examples of showing that had extensive description. However, there are numerous websites (and even questions on this website) that say you should cut all unnecessary content while editing, including extensive, unnecessary detail. Maybe I'm wrong, but

"Laying the flowers on Joan's door step, he strained to listen for any sounds from within. Every creaking or bump sent a jolt of terrified lust through his tense body. John both hoped and feared that Joan would catch him, and he was both glad and disappointed as he walked away from her house." (Answer by what)

seems slightly extensive and full of things that you could cut in the editing process. (And there are plently of other examples too; this is just one of the first few examples I could find.) Of course, the example above is much better than

John loves Joan

but it could be reduced to fewer sentences. As quoted before, "It seems that perfection is attained, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away." (Antoine de Saint Exupery). So to what extent is too much "showing" description too much?

  • Lol, you are not seriously asking this, are you? I made up these examples without a story which they would help tell, so of course they are without aim and purpose, like an epileptic fit. They are examples, to illustrate an idea, they are not literature and should not be emulated. Also, English is not my native tongue, and when I compose these examples I often don't know the right words, so I sort of circumscribe what I actually want to say. If you try to learn from people who are not in full command of the language, you are making a grave mistake.
    – user5645
    Aug 19, 2016 at 18:48
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    @what Don't feel bad about English not being your first language. You kick considerable butt around here. :) Aug 19, 2016 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


There's no one right answer, but generally I'd say it's too much when it slows down your narrative and you don't want it to.

For example:

John looked through the two windows to see Sherlock standing beside the cabbie. He lifted a long pale hand to his mouth. The cabbie did the same. The pills! Sherlock was about to take one of the suicide pills! John lifted his Browning and took aim. His hand hadn't been so steady since before Kandahar.


John looked through the two weathered windows of the deserted college buildings to see Sherlock, tall, cool, and forbidding, standing beside the dishevelled cabbie. The man wore a crooked, anticipatory grin. The detective regarded him with a look of slight disdain. He lifted a long pale hand to his mouth. The cabbie's grin grew wider, and he did the same. John could see something small and white between Sherlock's fingers. He was taking a pill. The doctor inhaled sharply — even though they knew that the murderer had been convincing people to take the pills, it was something else again to watch it happen. John drew his Browning from his back holster and aimed at the seated man. His hand, he registered dimly, was not trembling.

The second one has more detail, but the first one has much more punch.


The question has no single answer. Only opinions will you receive. Here’s mine: if the description seems to be too much, prune it to let the fruit show.

However, I may be able to shed light on why the example you shared seems extensive. It ends with this chunk of Telling:

John both hoped and feared that Joan would catch him, and he was both glad and disappointed as he walked away from her house.

Here’s a rewrite with less Telling:

Laying the flowers on Joan's doorstep, he crouched to listen within. A creaking floorboard tightened his entire body. John bolted up to stand face-to-face with her and explain everything. The peephole in the door stared at him, accused him. Then he saw it darken. Joan was staring at him, accusing him through the door that might as well have been a mile thick. He drifted back, as his feet carried his unforgivable soul away.

It’s longer, but (arguably) more engaging.

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    I might point out that your second adds actual plot which doesn't happen in the first. That's not the same thing as "how much showing." Aug 19, 2016 at 21:21
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    True. I'll see if I can strikethrough the added plot so that, combined with your comment, it may yield a greater lesson. Aug 19, 2016 at 22:44

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