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What ‘Show Don’t Tell’ really means.

Updated: Dec 24, 2022

**Warning -- this will be quite the rant.**

If you’re a writer and you’ve had beta readers, editors, or perhaps even other authors read your stuff — no matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction, novel or screenplay, I’ll bet you’ve been slapped across the face with the critic’s favourite crutch, 'Show Don’t Tell'.

Worry not my intrepid friend — roll your shoulders, take a deep breath, and laugh it off.

There are a plethora of amazing editors out there, tons of fellow writers with proper criticisms and notes to help make your works shine, and none of them will darken your doorstep with those annoying three words. Why? Because they understand all art is fluid and a brave self-portraiture of the artist themselves.

However, those 'Show Don’t Tell' linear thinkers who wish to apply formulaic principles and checklist protocols to your art, are simply trying to fit you, the perceived square peg, into the round hole of the generalized and uninspired. In short, they want to make you like everyone else, they want to marginalize your uniqueness and destroy free thought and honest expression.

When someone spouts off, 'Show Don’t Tell' to me, I immediately realize they’re admitting they’ve just read something either they didn't like or agree with, or it was so far above their grasp to think outside the box, they’ve pulled out that ole emergency exit phrase, hoping I’ll just nod, agree, and rethink my work.

No, no, no...

Well, either that or they’re simply so arrogant, it’s their way of saying, ‘that’s not how I would’ve written it’, meaning, they put their perception of my self-expression above my own — basically telling me they know me better than I know myself.

It’s ridiculous… so never let that damn phrase derail your unique gift of storytelling (not story showing).

If these 'Show Don’t Tell' robots had their way, we’d all be prancing around the campfire like a bunch of mimes, boring our audience with silent motions which do not honestly express ourselves — instead of sitting around that same campfire telling brilliant tales to entertain, astonish, inspire, or even terrify… in our own voices, our true voices, and our real selves.

We live in a society where everyone appears to preach individuality, appears to champion diversity, and supposedly fights to make sure everyone’s real voice is heard… but if you look past these curtains of empty promises, you’ll see the true nature of the machine, subtly and covertly telling you, if you want to make it — you need to be like everyone else.

Notice they’re not showing you to be like everyone else — they’re telling you to be…

… so aren’t they in fact breaking their own damn rule?

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