Show, not tell

How many times have you heard this advice as a writer? Too many to count I am sure if you are seriously pursuing the craft. It is so true. When you tell the reader about an event, a conversation, etc, it is boring. Flat. When you show the same thing, it is alive.

Showing can be in the form of dialogue. It can be in the form of tense. For example:

“On my way to the store to get the milk and bread I needed to survive the Blizzard of 2015, I saw a car off the road. I stopped to find an elderly gentleman who was not going to be able to remedy his situation himself. So I put on my gloves and Mad Bomber Hat and pushed while he rocked his car back and forth like a pro.”

That is showing.


“I went to the store to get milk and bread to survive the Blizzard of 2015 and helped an elderly gentleman get his car back on the road.”

What would you rather read?

Right now, U2 is riding the summit of my music preferences. And I am sure I am overthinking this and others might shake their head, but I have focused on one verse of one song that epitomizes SHOW versus TELL. And Bono does it with ONE WORD.

From “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”

I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense out of the world
Everything I ever lost now has been returned
The most beautiful sound I ever heard

For the most part, this is a tell. It is past tense. Bono is TELLING us about that moment when Joey Ramone lit that fire in him. An awesome moment. But one word, to me anyway, makes this chorus a SHOW.

“Everything I ever lost now has been returned.”

Despite the entire chorus being in the past tense, this one word makes it live. Makes it real. Makes it a SHOW, not TELL. To me, it wouldn’t have the same effect as “had been returned.”


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