Tag Archives: don’t tell

Tell, Don’t Show

 When should a writer break the commandment “Show, don’t tell?” Frequently. I’m turning to Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writer to support what I believe. In the book she uses an excerpt from “Dulse,” by Alice Munro, a story about Lydia, a middle-aged, divorced poet and editor.

Excerpt: She had noticed something about herself on this trip to the Maritimes. It was that people were no longer so interested in getting to know her. It wasn’t that she had created such a stir before, but something had been there that she could rely on. She was forty-five and had been divorced for nine years. Her two children had started on their own lives, though there were still retreats and confusions. She hadn’t gotten fatter or thinner, her looks had not deteriorated in any alarming way, but nevertheless she had stopped being one sort of woman and had become another, and she had noticed it on this trip.

My Take-away: Prose uses this example (along with a preceding paragraph I didn’t cite) to illustrate that writers often need to tell, not show. She notes that much time would have been wasted had Munro shown Lydia working as an editor, writing poetry, breaking up with her lover, dealing with her children, growing older, before the story actually begins.

I agree that well-written narrative can accomplish much, and the last sentence of the excerpt resonates with me–and probably many readers. It’s the dope slap of awareness that I’ve “stopped being one sort of woman and become another.”

Your thoughts? Leave a comment.


Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.

–Joyce Carol Oates