Show, don’t tell: The first rule of writing

I usually pay the bill before having tea from tea shop. I fear I may leave without paying. Some shopkeepers will tell: “Have it first, pay next.” Some other shopkeepers will give a lecture on their service. I can’t stand for such mokka1 dialogues. That will make me wrinkle up my nose. But I will fit a big smile on my face for covering up my disgust, and for pretending to be a good social being. Basically, they convey only one message “Our first and foremost priority is to provide service. Everything else is next; including payment.”

I went to a vegetable store the other day. I picked two coconuts and went to pay. The storekeeper was busy with weighing vegetables for a lady. I showed money to storekeeper. I was second in the queue. Normally I will stand in line. I know the time of each person in the queue is as valuable as mine. I had exact change; I thought I can pay quickly.

By seeing my money, the storekeeper hurried to complete weighing the beans and swiftly took a cover. I tried to get the cover from him to pack the coconuts myself. But he himself packed and gave to me. Only after giving the service, he accepted the money. I admired him for the quick service. He could have taken the money first, could have slowly weighed the beans and then could have given the cover to me but he didnt… He didn’t like to make his customer wait. By giving service quickly to me, he proved he didn’t want to waste the lady’s time too.

Both the tea sellers and the vegetable seller have the same policy. The tea seller tell it and make the customer feel bored; the vegetable seller shows it and gets goodwill from his customers.

This is how the rule ‘Show, don’t tell’ works in business. The same rule is considered as the first rule of writing. By showing, you can mold the readers’ mind to hold your point. After the reading, the words will evaporate from readers’ mind but the point will remain.

You can apply showing by telling a story or by drawing the point as picture in reader’s mind. It can make the user engaged in the topic. tells-method gives some information about the situation to readers; shows gives the feelings about the situation. Instead of telling “Jack was afraid.” , you can show:

As the footsteps tapped closer and closer, Jack felt his stomach muscles tighten. He flattened himself to the wall, the gritty bricks against his cheek. Sweat chilled his palms. He used both hands to steady the gun. (from Internet)

Now you can experience Jack’s fear as if you are with Jack in the situation.

See how Dale Carnegie showed “The only way to get best out of an argument is to avoid it.” in his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People:

You may be right, dead right, as you speed along in your argument; but as far as changing another’s mind is concerned, you will probably be just as futile as if you were wrong.

Frederick S. Parsons, an income tax consultant, had been disputing and wrangling for an hour with a government tax inspector. An item of nine thousand dollars was at stake. Mr. Parsons claimed that this nine thousand dollars was in reality a bad debt, that it would never be collected, that it ought not to be taxed. “Bad debt, my eye!” retorted the inspector. “It must be taxed.”

“This inspector was cold, arrogant and stubborn,” Mr. Parsons said as he told the story to the class. “Reason was wasted and so were facts…The longer we argued, the more stubborn he became. So I decided to avoid argument, change the subject, and give him appreciation.“

I said, ‘I suppose this is a very petty matter in comparison with the really important and difficult decisions you’re required to make. I’ve made a study of taxation myself. But I’ve had to get my knowledge from books. You are getting yours from the firing line of experience. I sometime wish I had a job like yours. It would teach me a lot.’ I meant every word I said.

“Well.” The inspector straightened up in his chair, leaned back, and talked for a long time about his work, telling me of the clever frauds he had uncovered. His tone gradually became friendly, and presently he was telling me about his children. As he left, he advised me that he would consider my problem further and give me his decision in a few days.

“He called at my office three days later and informed me that he had decided to leave the tax return exactly as it was filed.”

This tax inspector was demonstrating one of the most common of human frailties. He wanted a feeling of importance; and as long as Mr. Parsons argued with him, he got his feeling of importance by loudly asserting his authority. But as soon as his importance was admitted and the argument stopped and he was permitted to expand his ego, he became a sympathetic and kindly human being.

If you don’t want to retreat from the argument, tell the excerpt to your opponent. He may avoid the argument and you can win. 🙂

Let me wind up this mokka talk with a mokka joke.

Went to a vegetable shop this morning. Except for the shopkeeper’s behavior nothing else was cheap! – Unknown

  • 1. Mokkā(மொக்கா), a Tamil word, means boring. See Usage.