Show Don’t Tell by Mike Baron


I have three rules for the writer. Okay, I have a lot of rules for the writer. But I start with these three: 1. Your job is to entertain. 2. Show, don’t tell. 3. Be original. They’re all difficult to internalize, but some more than others. Rule number two has ramifications that go far beyond writing, and inform the way we live.

Once you internalize “show don’t tell,” you no longer call people names. That’s telling. And not calling people names suppresses all sorts of bad habits. Like bragging. We all want to impress others. When we were young, we would recite our accomplishments ad nauseum, especially after a few drinks. We all know people who only talk about themselves. We’ve all met people who think nothing of reciting their entire family history on a first meeting. Sometimes these histories reflect poorly. It doesn’t matter. The point of the encounter is for them to grab a little therapy by talking about themselves. They never say, “What do you do? What are your hobbies? What do you love?”

The secret to being a good friend is to be a good listener. A writer will absorb these tales of triump and woe and tuck them away for future reference. They’re personal and original, which brings us to rule number three.

In looking over this blog entry, I see that the whole thing is a violation of my second rule and I’m tempted to erase it.