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Show, Don’t Tell

One of the most-often stated maxims of writing instruction is “Show, don’t tell.”

For example, instead of telling me that a particular culinary repast was delicious, describe it in such terms that I see and taste it in my own imagination and then reach that conclusion on my own. After all, a conclusion reached on one’s own is more real, more lasting that a conclusion that someone else reaches and dictates.

As writing instructors have done for eons, I, too, taught that maxim to my students. I repeated it so often that it reached a point where I never had to complete the statement. As soon as I began to say it, the students dutifully completed my sentence for me. I hope they have remembered to practice it in their writing since that class rather than merely memorizing and reciting it. I think many of them did learn and apply the maxim to their writing.

I recall one particular assignment I gave them as homework that produced a humorous result. The budding writers were to describe something. As the bell rang, indicating the end of class, I reminded them, “Make me see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt, and even smell what you smelled.” I collected their papers the next class period and went home, settling down in my recliner to read and comment on their papers. As I approached the bottom of the stack of essays, one student’s creation made me laugh aloud. At the bottom of the last page, he had attached a “scratch-and-sniff” sticker.

He showed me!

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