Show, Don’t Tell (unless you’re in Kindergarten).

Continuing my series, ‘How to Follow Writing Advice that Makes No Sense,’ please comment with your ideas of when it is better for writers to ‘show’ and when to ‘tell.’


Children were never expected to interpret the trauma in a budgie’s past.

Do you remember your favorite part of kindergarten? While I am tempted to name ‘Nap Time,’ memory forces me to acknowledge that naps only became precious to me later in life. No, my favorite part of kindergarten—and probably yours—had to be ‘Show and Tell.’ These were the moments that I could bring in my tricycle, greeting cards or guinea pigs, and allow my classmates to gawk enviously at them while I supplied detailed narrative about their mechanical, emotional or bodily functions. In kindergarten, detail and clarity were rewarded, and Mrs. Arbuthnott would confirm with her warmest smile as she fought to keep from nodding off during the fourteenth minute of my diatribe.

As I began to show an interest in writing, though, it wasn’t long before my life became more complicated: teachers smiled less, and changed their mantra to ‘Show, Don’t Tell.’ I wondered then, and still wonder today, what this could possibly mean: given that a novel is around 80,000 words on pages, ‘Show Don’t Tell’ cannot possibly mean that authors should never tell anything.

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