Telling is quick, but ultimately unconvincing. Showing, on the other hand, is much more powerful.
I remember teaching my mother to use a computer 20 years ago. The terminology used by Bill Gates and Microsoft lends itself beautifully to the art of ‘Show, Don’t Tell’:
- Hey Mum, this is your Desktop, you know, just like your desk. You dump all your current things there.
- Then you can create folders, just like you would file folders in your filing cabinets.
- Mum, documents are just the things you are working on right now.
Amazing to think back on this now. Computers and the associated terminology have become so familiar and I think all of our digital desktops are just as messy as our physical desks!
There are so many different ways Show, Don’t Tell works. It is one of the strongest techniques in writing. Here are just a few:
In Harry Potter, JK Rowling often compares one thing to another. For instance, Petunia Dursley is compared to a crane throughout the books, strong and fierce but also graceful.
‘Mrs. Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours.’
Some of the most common are:
cute as a kitten
as busy as a bee
as cold as ice.
See how we immediately get a visual picture, along with the emotion that goes with that?
‘Walk a mile in my shoes’ is a memorable literacy technique used by authors. TELL us 10,000 people are sleeping on the streets and we blank out, we can’t cope. Yet SHOW us one child alone and hungry, or one dolphin starving to death with a plastic bag wrapped around their mouth, and we see the picture immediately. Think about how this is used to great effect in advertisements from the Salvation Army (http://www.salvationarmy.org.au/), Greenpeace (http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/) or Doctors without Borders (http://www.msf.org/).
We spend a lot of time explaining metaphors/similes to students, but in the end they all come under the bigger umbrella of Show, Don’t Tell. Encourage students to find ways to paint the visual image, and you will give them the tools to create innovative and powerful writing.
Show, Don’t Tell Action Activity
One picture…a million hits…and it was just a casual moment between two wonderful Olympic gymnasts.
Remember the image of Lee Eun-ju of South Korea and Hong Un-jong of North Korea who took a selfie during the Olympic Games? For them it was just a moment of friendship and respect for each other’s skills.
Others saw it as capturing the Olympic spirit of unity, given North and South Korea are at war with each other. The picture went viral.
There are lots of other images and stories that SHOW the amazing Olympic spirit demonstrated by athletes. For example:
Can you find other pictures from the Olympics and Paralympics that SHOW the incredible courage, determination, sadness and elation demonstrated by the athletes who have trained so hard to be there?
To access more Show, Don’t Tell Action Activities and the Writing Olympics Game Cards become a member of Seven Steps Online: www.sevenstepswriting.com/online.