Show, Don’t Tell

“Show, don’t tell,” means putting your character in a fedora instead of calling him a meninist. Preferably a fedora that’s two sizes too small. You can also show him mansplaining. There’s a guy on my Facebook, for example, who’s always telling me what it’s like to go to war. Despite the fact that he–unlike some of us–has never even enlisted. Which is why conversation is such a powerful storytelling tool: people often share things about themselves without realizing that they’re doing so. Or, rather, they think they’re sharing one thing when in actuality….

Let me put it like this: my private nickname for this guy isn’t Rambo.

Is this girl “bossy,” or “forceful?” The two terms convey very different messages, in and of themselves–but become even more powerful when juxtaposed with actual character on character interaction. Is this a forceful leader that the other character either can’t, or won’t, accept? Respect? Or is this a bossy, hateful person who persists in seeing themselves differently? There are any number of combinations, solutions, and answers. Your goal, here, isn’t to make the reader guess; show, don’t tell isn’t about hiding the answers. Rather, what you should be doing is laying the groundwork for the reader to draw their own conclusions. How well they do that, well, that’s going to depend on your talent as a writer.

I draw a great deal, personally, from real life. Not in the sense of writing down what I see but collecting patterns. Certain kinds of people tend to respond in certain ways; noticing this, and doing something about it, is sociology. Framing it for what it is, so you through your experience can tap into my experience, is–in my opinion–good writing.