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How to Write: Week 15: Showing VS Telling: Sunday (Philosophy)

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    One of the most accurate and annoying pieces of advice a writer, especially a poet, can receive is “show, don’t tell.”  While it certainly is a valid critique fro many first drafts, if the person critiquing cannot provide an example, they are probably just giving the “standard” critique and have nothing of use to say.
    Yes, many pieces start out tell-y and could be beefed up with some show.  But some pieces need some tell because the show is so intricate.
    An approximate rule of thumb, if you need one, is about 15% tell to 85% show.  You don’t want to lambaste your audience with exactly what you are saying, but you don’t want a piece so opaque no one knows what you are saying.
    A piece should have much tell as it needs and as much show as it needs without regard to trends or hapless critics.  Remember, express first.  If your expression ends up too tell-y you can add some show elements to make it more substantial.  If the expression is too show-y you can sprinkle it with tell to make it more accessible to more people.
    Additionally, if you are going to critique someone else’s work and say, “show, don’t tell” make sure you have an example or two to illustrate your statement.

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Azriel Johnson is an inkspatter analyst by day and a serial writer by night. He runs a small, not money losing publishing press and a weekly open mic with monthly features called Writing Knights Press.

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