As writers, there’s a little suggestion that’s almost a rule: Show don’t tell. When it’s so much quicker to tell, this can be quite hard, so I thought I’d illustrate an example of what someone can learn without being told a thing.

On my regular commute home, a week or so ago (You wanted a story, didn’t you? Don’t groan.), I got on a train with a mother, a pram (holding a very young baby), and her four or five year old daughter.

I couldn’t see them as my back was to them, but the mother cooed over the baby repeatedly, told him he was lovely, gave him kisses, and probably made him feel like the most loved baby in the world.

What did this show me? Well, how about that she adored that child?

The girl, on the other hand, she told off. All the time. There wasn’t a word that left her mouth that wasn’t a reprimand. I couldn’t even figure that the child was being that naughty (or at all naughty). I mean, once, the little girl asked could she sit on her mother’s lap, and the mother told her off, saying the little girl was too old!

What did this show me? I couldn’t help but think she didn’t like the little girl very much.

But why? The mother had already called the baby the little girl’s brother, so they were definitely related. What else could there be to make the mother dislike the child.

My mind wandered to a few scenarios, and eventually came up with: did they have different fathers? If the mother was no longer with the little girl’s father, and didn’t think much of the father anymore, that might pass down to the child.

Sure enough, a while later, after the girl had done something else not so very naughty (I think she was playing with her brother’s hair – playing, not tugging), her mother threatened: “If you don’t stop, I’ll send you to stay with your father.”

Again, that statement doesn’t tell me they’re no longer together, but I understand by inference (that “stay with”) that the parents are no longer together.

How about you? What did you learn from my little story? Did you draw the same conclusions as I did? And yet you weren’t told a thing by the mother and the children. This is how, as readers, we figure out a fair amount of what’s going on in books, and how “showing” can work for you as a writer. And that’s my trying-to-be-useful quota spent for the day :).

Image courtesy of Jeroen van Oostrom |