Show don’t tell.
The dreaded words that baffle many writers. They’ve been marked in red pen in the margins of my manuscripts. Hence, when my son handed me his school paper, a gasp escaped my lips. My jaw fell slack, and my eyes widened. I blinked as words blurred on the page then refocused. (See what I did there instead of typing I was shocked?) Here’s his schoolwork page:
Bam, and just like that my son learned showing versus telling.
Even as I self-edit, I’ll still find places where I’m telling my readers what they should feel instead of showing them through description and allowing them to experience their own emotions. If it is that simple, why are there entire books written on the topic? Why do I occasionally let it slip into my writing?
Because it’s easier to tell. It takes fewer words. It gets to the point. It doesn’t require any emotional involvement.
It got me thinking. How much of my life is telling instead of showing?
- Do I take the time to show people I love them?
- Do I tell people they are forgiven or do I demonstrate how I’ve forgiven them?
- Do I tell people I’m going to pray for them, or do I take a moment and actually pray with them?
One of the most impactful things I learned from leading a church group was from an instructional video that came with the curriculum. It said your group will only be as open as their leader. If you are vulnerable, your group will open up. If you answer questions generically, so will your group. To lead my group effectively, I had to become emotionally involved. It would have been easier to just preach, but I wanted the group to go deeper, so I had to set the tone and lead by example.
My husband has consciously decided to never say the words, “You know what you need to do …” Instead, he has trained himself to say, “I was in a similar experience, and I handled it this way …” By describing his own experience, he’s allowing the people he interacts with to draw what they need from his past mistakes and to form their own conclusions. If he merely told them what they need to do, most of them would jump on the offensive. Some may go through the motions and take the advice, but the idea would never be their own. Within my husband’s business dealings, he too has learned to show instead of tell.
Don’t get me wrong there is a place for telling. In fiction, it’s usually used to show time passing or to skip through some of the boring parts, but it doesn’t convey the same feeling as showing. It doesn’t generate the same buy-in.
God too understands showing versus telling. It’s why He sent his son to earth to show us His great love. I believe it’s why he gave us free will. God is all-powerful. He could easily tell us, “You will worship me,” but He wants us to willingly choose to love Him. He wants our emotional buy-in. So, He chose to demonstrate His love through His grace and mercy.
1 John 4:9-11, not only sums it up but also calls us into action, “God showed how much He loved us by sending His one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.”
How can you show God’s love today?
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