Showeth Don’t Telleth: The Family Picnic Example



In critique groups, someone says it. The listener nods. But when that nodder was me, I didn’t get it.

I’ve read tons of examples of showing versus telling, but I think the easiest to grasp involves live storytelling.

Think family picnic.

Who’s the best storyteller? The uncle who gets everyone laughing because he mimics your mom? Or Grandma who ticks off a laundry list of things until everyone’s eyes glaze over?

At a picnic, someone asked the woman beside me, “How is your retirement going?”

She replied, “Well, I get up early for breakfast. Then I do household chores. Sometimes vacuuming or dusting. Once a week, I wash the kitchen floor. Usually Thursdays. Around lunch, I check email. Then I have my doctor’s appointments. But those are on Wednesdays…”

After two minutes, I sent a furtive glance to the person on my other side. My eyes pleaded, please engage me in a side conversation.

Nope. He just nodded and said the appropriate, “Really?” or “Umhm.”

Her telling totally disengaged me. I thought I would never escape this duller-than-dishwater conversation.

Inspiration struck and I excused myself to use the bathroom.

When I came back, my dad shared a funny story about our household. Or rather re-enacted the way Mom knocks and flings open my bedroom door before I can say, “Come in,” or “Just a second.”

Everyone cracked up and teased her.

Why? Because he showed them.

He didn’t talk at them, but gave a peek into our world. Made them a part of the unfolding drama.

That is what showing does and telling doesn’t.

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