Show, Don't Tell      Image By  

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If you have ever written a story, you have likely heard this phrase. "Show, don't tell." It is the bane of every writer, because ever single one of us do it. Everyone.

A "Tell" is when you state, "The man was old and wrinkled." It gets the massage across... the guy is old. Cool story man. This does not paint us a picture or make us very invested in this old man. Sure he is an elder, and we should respect our elders, but he is just some meaningless character with this information. It doesn't draw us forward.

A "Show" would be something more long these lines:

"The gentleman wore a three piece suit, the cordoroy faded and worn from age. Several tufts of fabric jutted out from his elbows, the protective pads long rendered useless. He hobbled down the street, supported by a wooden cane as weathered as his face."

This paints us a much better picture and gives us a glimpse into who this character is. We can say easily that it is an old man, but the "Show" makes us care.

This rule is a must when it comes to writing, and can be found in revision as you skim your work. If you want practice with this rule, try out a tabletop RPG. Or even better, run one.

When you DM, you are in charge of the story. Sure there may be a battle-mat or miniatures, but it is the DM's role to paint the players a picture. The DM sets the scene and describes everything that the players see, he is their eyes into the world he has crated. And as a writer, you play the same role for the reader.

If you want a player or reader to be invested in your world, take the time to paint them a pretty picture. (Hence the pretty picture attached to this post) :) Reading a story or playing a tabletop is an investment in time and energy, and you should ensure that the end product is a polished, beautiful piece of art. Even if it is a drunken dwarf that stenches of last night's ale.

So my final word is, get the words down on the page. Rule # 1: Get something on the page. Rule #2: Show, Don't Tell. Reread and revise your work multiple time in order to hammer this into your brain, and your work will prosper. And try fitting a tabletop RPG in. You'll enjoy it.

Happy Reading!

- Matt