Show, Don’t Tell

April 1, 2020

“Show the readers everything. Tell them nothing.”(Ernest Hemingway)

In the writer’s world, there aren’t necessarily rules but guidelines, unless you are Stephen King or J. K. Rowling—then you can do whatever you want.

Broken glass

Anton Checkhov, a famous writer of short stories, said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

One of the “rules” of writing is show, don’t tell. What does that mean? I’m glad you asked. In storytelling, it’s important to show what your character is doing or feeling.

Here’s another example of show, don’t tell:

  1. Jack was cold.
  2. Jack pulled his coat tighter against the wind off the ocean.

The first is telling. It’s also passive voice, which we’ll talk about later. The second is showing and engages your imagination, creating a picture in your mind.

How does this writing tip apply to everyday life?

We’ve all heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” This is true in every type of relationship. It’s easy to say you care about someone, or love them, but showing those emotions can be difficult.

Sorry sign

This goes for apologizing too, which I’ve done many times with Louie regarding my tone of voice (I can sound a little mean and condescending. Yes, I know, shocking). But until I actually started working on how I talked, my apologies were as empty as a deflated balloon.

So, here’s an April challenge—let’s think about our words. Do they line up with our actions? If so, good job, keep pressing on. If not, this month is the perfect time to start, when the new life of Spring blooms before our eyes.

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