“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekov talking about the use of a well know literary device called ‘Show, don’t tell’ and more recently ‘Show, not tell.’
This method which has many proponents in the world of literature is not a new phenomenon. Ernest Hemingway opens his novel ‘To have and have not’ written in 1937 with the following lines:
You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars?
Here Hemingway is painting a picture of early morning in Cuba, he could have easily written ‘One very early morning…’ some writers may argue that these examples are still ‘telling’ although somewhat elaborately. Calling it ‘Show, not tell though does simplify it for our students and is a great way of getting them to use vivid description.
Evan Marshall from http://themarshallplan.net/ says:
Don’t just write “The subway station was shabby.”
Write: “Near the edge of the platform, a man with knotted hair held out a Dixie cup to no one in particular, calling, ‘Spare some change? Spare some change?’ Swirls of iridescent orange graffiti covered the Canal Street sign. The whole place smelled of urine and potato chips.”
Perhaps both are telling but one is telling in much more detail. The latter has much more detail and drama.
I use film widely in my teaching and I use film to demonstrate this technique.
The following two extracts are from a music video called 'Titanium' by David Guetta.
These two excerpts are from one of my favourite films on The Literacy Shed, called 'Catch a Lot.'
There are many other examples in the films on www.literacyshed.com and I may follow this blog up with them if people think it is useful.
Thanks for reading and I hope you leave a comment.