When I teach creative writing, like everyone else who who’s ever taught it, I constantly remind my students of the old adage “show, don’t tell.”
“Don’t tell us you hate your ex-boyfriend, show us that using scene, and voice, and image, and setting,” I say. “Dramatize!”
I repeat the words of one of my former teachers: “Nothing is less beautiful than beautiful”–the word is so abstract, so entirely subjective, to describe something as simply “beautiful” doesn’t tell us anything concrete.
When we study nonfiction, I tell them they’re allowed to show and tell: I read to them from an essay by Philip Lopate about the importance of reflection and tell them something I learned from a different professor: that the story is not as interesting as the sense the author makes of the story. (Whatever that means–like any platitude, it’s imperfect, and not always true.)
Lately I’ve been thinking about how this applies in life. Because I want people to show me their feelings–love, hate, whatever–but I also want them to tell me. For reasons I can’t explain, I need the reassurance that comes not just from affection, from meaningful actions, but from being told: from the statement “I love you.”
“You need something more detailed,” D observed when we had the conversation. More detailed, he meant, than the gestures and behaviors that signify love: I need the words themselves.