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“Show, Don’t Tell”

November 21, 2021
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There is a common suggestion that travels through writer’s groups and blogs as one of the keynote pieces of advice for all who place their words upon the blank page. It is heralded across the internet from the minds of those who teach and tip as wise advice for those of us who fall into the category of still learning how to be better at what we do. It is the phrase, “Show, don’t tell.” This simple phrase describes for writers a better way to tell a story, if you will, a more distinct way to connect our readers to the truth of what our characters do, think, and feel. But what struck me today is how applicable that simple phrase was to our everyday lives.

Whether you are raising kids or cherishing friendships, supervising employees or talking in the store check-out line, we all have a circle of influence and impact. You do not have to be a writer to be using your words and thoughts to send a message to someone else. The only requirement is being human. So, if you are human, this one is for you.

Show, don’t tell.

Our words send messages about who we are, what we think, how we feel, and most of all, about what matters to us. What we must be careful of is the message being sent when our words and our actions don’t match. When we say we are one thing and we do another. When we claim we feel this way, and we do something different. When we teach our children love and hang on to hate. When we say we are honest and then gossip and lie. When we preach forgiveness and hold on to a grudge.

Harsh? Yes. But I have good news.

There is not a soul reading this, not one single soul, who can say they have mastered the skill of always, no matter what, being perfect at doing what they say they will do and being who they say they are. (On a side note, if I am wrong and you have hit the bar of perfection in this, please give me a shout. I will buy your dinner because I would love to see how it is done.) But assuming that I am right, it would seem we have come across another one of those traits that all who are alive share, right up there with feeling lonely and wanting to be loved.

So, we all do it? Now what? Well, just like everything else in this crazy world, we do the only thing we can. We try.

Writers are not perfect at it in their stories and others won’t be perfect at it in their lives either, but every day we have to get up and try to make our words consistent with our actions. And one of the easiest ways to do it is to show, don’t tell. For when we do, we are saying more than we could imagine. Our message is clear when we live out what we believe. Our friends know we cherish their time when we show up, our neighbors know we forgive when we don’t hold things over their heads, the clerk at the store will know you value you them when you take time from your busy day to brighten theirs, your children will know they are loved when you give them your time, and those that see you will see you love Jesus when you act like Him.

I guess actions really do speak louder than words. Wonderful advice for writers telling their stories and for humans telling theirs.

What do you want your story to say about you? Show, don’t tell.

Shannon Leach is a slice-of-life encouragement writer and the owner of A Repurposed Heart and ARH Inspirations. Her authentic stories and books about leadership, life, and loving people focus on encouraging others and reminding them they are not alone. Her work can also be found in Guideposts and multiple Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and is the co-founder of the nonprofit The Fostered Gift.
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