Show Don’t Tell

It’s the mantra we all chant. Over and over we say it, hear it, read it, believe it. Show don’t tell. Show don’t tell. If you say it enough it becomes like a prayer by rote, devoid of meaning.

Here’s one little clue to how to do it.

One of the reasons we writers fall back on telling instead of showing is that our idea has gotten too big. We want to say something large and the only way we know how is to just, you know, come out and say it. Here’s the secret to that: the bigger the thing you want to say, the more important the details are to saying it.

For example. You want to show that there is hope and love in the world as well as grimness and danger. Telling: your character is struggling through a difficult time, and he looks vaguely off into the sky and says, “But I know there’s also hope and love in the world, so I’m not giving up.” Showing: he’s grimly scrubbing the blood and mud off his boots with a ragged, torn scrap of fabric. He turns it over to use the less bloodied side and there’s something there, under his thumb. When he scrapes it clean to see, it’s a little heart, embroidered there by the girl he left behind, and he never knew it was there till now. He lifts his face to the sky and smiles.

The things you want to say don’t need to be said. They’re there, all along, in the details. They will show themselves, if you just trust them.


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