Show and Tell

By: Aryanne Ferguson

Do me a favor, Reader. Think back to high school English class, at the beginning of the period;  think back to bending your knees and sliding into your low desk. Back to putting your feet on the wire basket beneath the desk of the kid in front of you. How you had that nervous tick, so you jiggled your leg up and down until the kid in front of you turned around and gave you the evil eye. Up in front of the classroom, day after day, good old Teach waxed poetic about Shakespeare, mythology, The Scarlett Letter, and worse, tried to make the class actually enjoy (through sheer force of will) deciphering 18th century novels. And then – thank the Greek gods, the Nine Muses, and Odysseus himself – you finally got a break. The next assignment was to write.  Remember class, show, don’t tell.

Show, don’t tell.

Open secret time? I’m lazy. I’d rather just tell you to show, don’t tell. I’d rather not show you. If you’re like me and you’ve got a little of the lazy in you too, take a look at the book you’re working on. You may have written: I walked into English classes and read Shakespeare. Then the teacher assigned a writing exercise, but you meant to write the first paragraph in this post. Dun dun dun.

I do think that telling is appropriate when writing dialogue. Unless your character is supposed to be long-winded, the story moves faster with dialogue in which no words are wasted. Let me show (wink wink) you an example.

“So how do you think you feel since you, um, got out of the hospital?”

“Oh, my legs are a bit sore, but all in all, I’m probably on the mend. So um, yeah, thanks for asking.”

“Oh no problem. Just wondering how you were and all.”


“Can you walk without the cane?”

“My leg is sore, but I’ll live. Surprised you noticed.”

“Give me a little credit.” 

So, Reader, what’s your take on show and tell?

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