Yes, You CAN Tell Them

I have often heard the advise to, “Show your readers, don’t tell them.”  Evidently, lots of other people have heard it as well.

While I understand the intended significance of this advise, I think perhaps some people have taken it too far.

Perceived intention of phrase:  Try not to insult your readers’ intelligence(s) by dumbing down your content to such degree that they are spoon-fed the entire storyline in the form of a simplistic play-by-play.

Perhaps taking it too far: “I cannot give away anything about my story in the first two-thirds of the book or else my readers will lose interest.  As such, I’m going to create a fictional world using unexplained rules and made-up jargon that translates to unnecessary confusion regarding basic concepts of my imaginary cultures for hundreds of pages.”

Another perceived intention of phrase:  Give your readers a more tangible experience of the story by tuning in to the tactile, the implicit, the environment.  As a basic example, rather than saying, “The room felt sad,” you can focus on how empty, quiet, and dark it is so that the reader feels the sadness without blatant explanation.

Perhaps taking it too far:  “I will be so ambiguous about what’s going on, you won’t know anything about the emotional state, motivations, or intentions of any character- EVER.”

Still, maybe the above examples are what you want to do.  If that’s the case, as with any art-oriented advice, feel free to disregard in order to create something true to your imagination.

There are many widely-accepted platitudes about how to make art.  Make sure you’re consciously selecting pertinent ones to better sculpt your work, rather than mangling your work to fit into their margins.