Show and Tell

There are many rules in writing.

Some are meant to be broken, such as always have a love story, or never let the hero fail.  Others are more of guidelines to help make your writing better, such as avoiding clichés or maintaining a consistent point of view.

One of my favorite writing rules, is show, don’t tell. 

It’s a simple concept.  It is one thing to tell your audience that a character is a good person.  It is an entirely different thing to prove they are a decent person.  I gave my daughter an example to help with one of her stories.

Her story had two sisters, twins with very different personalities.  She wrote it out simply, telling her audience, “Alyssa was very girly and always wore dresses.  Alex was the complete opposite, a tomboy who always wore jeans.  They had always been like that.”

It’s straight forward enough, and tells you something about the two sisters.  You learn a bit about them, but there is only one small example.  A person is not girly simply because they choose to wear skirts, nor are they a tomboy simply because they prefer jeans.

I tried to explain the difference between show and tell, giving her an example.

“Alyssa sat at the table, her blonde curls pulled back with the a pink tiara.  ‘How is your tea Mrs. Bear?” she asked pouring her another cup.  She set another cookie on the plate across the table in front of the stuffed duck.

Alex walked in the room, her identical blonde curls stuffed under her baseball hat.  She threw her baseball bat onto bottom bunk, dirt smearing across the ruffled pink bedspread.  Picking up a cookie from the table she down, knocking the duck to the floor.”

Obviously my version is not perfect, however it gives the same information as the first example, without saying it as bluntly.  The reader is allowed to draw their own conclusions.  Events from the story can be related to the readers life, and therefore makes a larger impact.

This rule not only applies in writing, but also in life.

I can tell you anything about me, and you have very little choice but to trust me.  After all, you don’t know me, what can you say.  I could pretend I am actually a spy, fluent in thirteen languages, jetting around the world and assassinating people for our government.

Of course, eventually you would figure out that this is not the truth.  Eventually you would notice none of this was true.  It might sound cool, but if it is not backed up by actions it means nothing.  Who I really am will eventually reveal itself.

What I do means more than what I say.  If I want you to know something about me, I need to show you, not tell you.  I need to be the person I want others to see me as.  We show who we are, we don’t tell.

So who do you show yourself to be?  What scenes would someone need to include in your life story to tell who you really are.

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