From word one, writers are told, “show don’t tell”. It’s a method of letting the reader see and feel the character’s emotions, their wants, their needs. It’s not an easy bit of craft to master since “telling” is so much faster – and easier – than showing. To ‘show’ means to get into the character’s skin. To feel what they feel and describe it in a way that will, hopefully, elicit that same feeling in the reader.
Show don’t tell. It makes sense in fiction but what about reality?
Sure, few of us would refuse flowers and candy on Valentine’s Day. And I doubt any of us would object to a gift and gushy card on our birthday. But… isn’t that a form of telling? Wouldn’t you rather wake on a morning other than Valentine’s Day or your birthday and find the laundry washed, dried and folded? Or the empty milk container rinsed, recycled and replaced by a full container with a fair expiration date?
When you think back on special moments, consider this… are they special because of what someone said to you or because of what someone did to you, with you, or for you… without being asked? It’s not that we shouldn’t say I love you, or I need you, or any other endearment, but that we should say them and show them, now, while we can, so that later, if events take away the opportunity to show those we love how much we love, they will already know.
I thought of this today as I drove my daughter to her volunteer position at a living history museum. I blasted the radio as I drove home alone, singing along with some classic songs. Then one came on that I’ve heard many times but didn’t ‘get’ until today. As a writer, I’ve learned a lot from songs – especially how to break a story down to its core. I’ve admired the way songwriters can tell an entire, passionate story of love and heartbreak in three minutes or less. Today, however, I learned something else… that showing the feelings of a character, or a real live person, takes much more than words.