Show and Tell. Like Kindergarten, But With More Judgment.

This is my penultimate post here at the ‘Mus. It’s like leaving Neverland. Just when you’ve figured out the lost boys and the ticking alligator and the pirates who don’t seem to pirate anything, you are exiled forever for reasons you can’t quite grasp except as a kind of vague feeling you’ve done something wrong. Okay, maybe I don’t really get Neverland.

In my defense, these are some of the image results for “Neverland” and “Peter Pan.”


Garter snake.


William McKinley.


Is that a cat? Are that 1970’s man’s legs on backwards?


Peter denying Christ. So . . . close?

***Fun Fact: There’s this Peter Pan comic book at my grandma’s house, and you know how Peter’s usually played by a lady in the musical, right? So there he is on the cover — drawn — and they’ve drawn his boobs in. WHY DID THEY DO THAT? The singing ladies use tight wraps and loose clothing and all kinds of Theatre Magic to appear boyish, and the comics people then go and draw the boobs in anyway, like really obviously? Anyway, no I don’t have the image to show you because it apparently doesn’t exist on the internet, but I’ll take a picture for my ultimate post and then we can all feel various feelings together.***

So. The bones of this post were originally intended for another blog, wholesome and child-friendly, where I’m making a guest appearance to talk about writing. But the post I was working on for this blog involves me reading reviews of my book, and the longer I can put that off, the better, kind of like doing taxes. No, it doesn’t matter if they’re good reviews or bad reviews. It’s like — okay, that’s all going in the ultimate post.

Anyhoo. Writing. We all have our struggles with Craft (I like to capitalize it and pronounce it “krahhhft”), and the stretch between contract and launch is the perfect time for those struggles to be brought into painful relief. My personal source of pain, were I to get it tattooed across my forehead, is:

.llet t’nod ,wohS

I’m sure a lot of writers get to the point where we just want to have the bloody thing inked, waiting to greet us with its pithy, self-righteous wisdom in the bathroom mirror every morning.

“Never say, ‘She was happy,’” our forehead tattoo will remind us. “Say, ‘She danced through the junkyard like a smiling, dancing, sparkle rainbow conspiracy-theorist fairy, the sparkling rainbows of spilled gasoline reflecting off her tinfoil hat.’”

Okay. But, you know, sometimes we should tell also.

“NEVER!” shouts our forehead tattoo. “Go write out Moby-Dick longhand and think about what you’ve done!”

(This is why we SHOULD NOT get the forehead tattoo.)

***Fun Fact: TALKER 25 IS COMING.***

OK, so readers need to make connections themselves, it’s true. It’s annoying when a book makes you want to shout, “Okay, he misses his freaking dead father! I GET IT ALREADY!”


This is the free crybaby image I found. I can’t stop looking at it. Srsly, really study this horrifying thing. Where are its hands? WHERE ARE ITS EMOTIONS?

But sometimes we — and by “we” I mean, specifically, I — end up writing for psychic readers.

Anyone who’s read E. L. James can tell you there’s a fine line between a feather and a battle-axe. (I haven’t read E. L. James, which is why my Night Elf Warrior totally sucks.) I am so afraid of hitting readers over the head that sometimes I’m not even in the same zip code as them. In my WIP, for instance, I’ve got these beasts of burden. They lope around, they carry stuff, people ride them, and they have feathers. Because they’re birds. Birds have feathers. But that wasn’t clear. I needed to say they are birds.

Now that’s not to say that Show Don’t Tell is one (actually two, for some reason) of the ten worst pieces of writing advice you can receive, as asserted by a listicle that’s been making the rounds this week. It’s good advice. It’s just that telling has these specific times when it’s appropriate, so it’s more like Show And Tell.

I asked my mum what her thoughts were on this, and she tossed me a book she wrote on memoir. It was a special moment.


Here we are protesting something. It’s the little things.

So here are some guidelines on showing and telling, based partially on my mum’s book and partially on what my spirit animal intimated to me (it’s either a bear or an eagle depending on which Internet quiz you believe).


Holy balls, this came out way more terrifying than I envisioned.

Show when you’re in the moment. When the story is happening.

Show one specific instance of a repeated thing rather than montaging, “This thing would happen occasionally.”

Tell information that enhances the reader’s understanding of the moment you’re showing.

Tell insights.

Neither show nor tell actions or information the reader can infer on her own.

What else?



Filed under Advice - Helpful or Otherwise, Uncategorized, Writing

16 responses to “Show and Tell. Like Kindergarten, But With More Judgment.

  1. This is fantastic advice – your spirit animal is wise! (And also terrifying. I would probably do whatever it said no matter how good the advice seemed. But it’s still good advice!)


  2. Lindsey Lane

    You go out with a roar, dear Adi. I will miss you.


  3. Adi Rule, you are a mad genius.

    Also, I am a firm believer in “good telling.” Sometimes, you have to tell to keep the story moving forward, and if you can do it with some style, all the better. J.K. Rowling does it well. A certain book that just won the Pulitzer today does it for chapters at a stretch. 🙂 I’m not saying that the rule is complete bullpoop, but sometimes flouting it can serve a story.


  4. Joshua McCune

    Ditto what everybody else said. Now figuring out what the reader can infer and what they can’t is my tricky part… Lol


  5. Your Bear-Eagle is definitely not one to argue with! LOL

    So I want to “tell” you that we’re sad you’re leaving. This post “shows” why! We will miss your awesomeness here at EMUs Debuts!


  6. Parker Peevyhouse

    I’m still reeling from that picture of your spirit animal and have nothing intelligent to add re: “Show Vs. Tell” except to say that I still haven’t figured out when to use which.


  7. Christine Hayes

    Adi, you mad genius you. You have such a gift for wit and weirdness and insanely smart advice. I’m still waiting for my turn on the ARC tour list, but I may have to just go and order your book so I can read it RIGHT NOW. Your presence among the mob will be sorely missed!


  8. Tell to speed up things that take a long time. (the way kids come into class and sit down and the teacher takes attendance and she collects homework and she gave new homework.) Show to slow down things that happen quickly. (the way your chair fell over when you were tipping it back during the teacher’s lecture and everyone was totally silent)


  9. I had to stop and take a moment at the eagle-bear. Lady, you are insane. But wonderful insane. And I’m so, so sad that I’m just warming up in this group as you are leaving it. You have such a voice! Your posts are so wonderfully vulnerable, and legitimately LOL funny, and I’ll miss them.


  10. Adi!! I found it!!!!
    And, yes, we will miss you here. I’ve enjoyed reading you.


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