Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Show Don't Tell

"Show Don't Tell" seems to be the motto at my writing class. I love my writing class and everyone there, but both the logical and the creative sides of me - all of me - cringe when I hear that phrase. 

We are storytellers.  We tell stories.  We tell them.  We don't act them out.  Maybe some of us.  I don't.

I get the underlying meaning that it is very good form to eliminate what is unnecessary in your story, but I rarely do that on the first draft.  I spill it all out and cut it down later.  I have been in my own self-induced editing hell the past two weeks, so I get the concept.  

The semantics of the phrase really irks me.  It's imperative and negative. 

I do realize I'm likely having a personal problem.   It doesn't seem to bother anyone else.  But it's eating at me along with the other things that happened this week all at the same time when the universe decided to shift around me. 

So I wrote a poem.

I only write poems when that part of me that loves to write stories is completely paralyzed.  I am absolutely paralyzed today.  Today I wrote a lot of poems.  I will share one.

Show Don’t Tell

When you utter

Show Don't Tell
All I hear is Don't.

The negative
Cuts through me
Like a rusty knife.

Are what I need
When my words flow smooth.

One simple Don’t
Is all it takes
For me to feel attacked.

The teenage girl
Inside my gut
Revulses at the word.

Maybe I am sensitive
Or overly defensive –
I'm sure my skin is way too thin,

But Don’t to me
Is a fighting word
I never want to hear.

When you say
It’s wrong to tell
The story in my heart,

My insurgent spirit
Rises up to tell you
To shut up

And stops my story
In its tracks
Until my rant is done.

As storytellers
We must tell.
As painters we can show.

Are bossy –
Don’t tell me what to do.

Please just tell me
What you love
About my careful words –

It won't hurt me
If you liked
Just a phrase or two.

Never, ever, don’t you dare,
Don’t ever tell me

Something about
That little word
Just makes me feel I suck.

OK, now I feel better.... I think we all need a more positive phrase to say the same thing.  I can't really think of one.  At least I do feel like writing a new chapter....


  1. 'my insurgent spirit' - that phrase will linger for me.

  2. Great poem, Tonja. I especially love the first stanza.

    I also think it's awesome that even when feeling "stuck," you do amazing writing.

    Have a nice weekend!

  3. Thanks. :) Too harsh for the public readaround? Just kidding - I wouldn't dare risk hurting anyone's feelings.

    I think a better motto would be "Sometimes...(with a pause)...less is more. Maybe less here. But only if that's what you're going for."

  4. Interesting poem. :-)

    I think it's a shortened form of some long-winded writing rule or something.

    But yeah, I word it differently when I crit people.