“Show, don’t tell” — does it just apply to writers?

Show me!

Every writer has been admonished, “Show, don’t tell!” There are blogs and articles and arguments galore. It refers to the use of words. It refers to using description to bring events alive in the reader’s mind and heart, rather than flat narrative that tells the reader what’s happening and how they should feel about it.

It occurred to me that the rule doesn’t just apply to writers.

There’s a lot on social media right now, in words to this effect: “You should wake up! You should understand! You should learn more! You should do more!”

I try not to use the word “should”. It’s too often used by someone who wants to tell the rest of the world how to live. I admire (and listen to) people who show me examples, show me ideas, show me the truth. Who don’t tell me what I “should” do.

And it’s not always other people who tell us that.

My aunt and I once sat in her lovely back yard, sipping ice tea. She moaned that she had been invited to volunteer at a local charity group, but she hadn’t gone yet. “I know I should, but I just can’t seem to make myself find the time. I feel so guilty!”

I said, “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself.”

She looked torn between confusion and laughter, but I meant what I said. If you sincerely believe it’s the right thing to do, then do it. If you don’t believe it, then don’t. And if you’re simply hesitant or reluctant, figure out why and look for answers – all the answers you can find. Don’t tell yourself what you should do. Don’t tell me what you should do. Show me what you’re doing.

And don’t let someone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t feel guilty about. Figure it out for yourself.

You can tell me what you feel guilty about. I’ll probably put it in a book. But I won’t tell my readers what it’s like to be you – I’ll show them how it makes you feel and what it makes you do. As soon as you figure out what “it” is.

So to quote Eliza Doolittle:

Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do?

Don’t talk of stars, burning above
If you’re in love, show me!
Tell me no dreams, filled with desire
If you’re on fire, SHOW ME!

5 thoughts on ““Show, don’t tell” — does it just apply to writers?

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