“Show, don’t tell” is the mantra of fiction writers, but it’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around. To illustrate the concept, I’d like to share the real-life adventures of Supermom, Rugrat, and Monkey Boy.*
Example 1: Tell
Supermom had finally had enough. The room shared by Rugrat and Monkey Boy was a potential health hazard, and it was time for drastic measures. She stomped into the living room, confiscated the Wii remotes from their sticky little hands, and hid them on top of the refrigerator, explaining to the guilty duo that if they ever wanted to play Mario Kart again, they needed to locate the floor of their pigsty. Her words were greeted with great wailing and gnashing of teeth, but when she proved immovable the boys caved her to her superpowers and reluctantly entered their room. Garbage was gathered, toys were tallied, and laundry lathered. When it was finished, Supermom returned the remotes to her minions and collapsed on the floor beside her husband’s desk, whimpering softly. He bought her Chinese food.
Example 2: Show
Supermom propped the basket of clean laundry on her hip and opened the door to the Minion’s bedroom, nearly gagging at the stench that assailed her sensitive nose. Dropping the basket to the floor, she dashed to the window and wrestled it open, desperate for oxygen.
“Alright, that’s it,” she announced, stomping into the living room where Rugrat and Monkey Boy were duelling on the Wii. “Give me those.”
“But my time’s not done,” wailed Rugrat, his plea echoed loudly by his sidekick.
Ignoring their cries, Supermom pried the remotes from their sticky hands. “I’m sorry, but your room is disgusting. You can finish playing after you clean up.”
They watched in horror as she put the remotes on top of the fridge. Monkey Boy’s lower lip stuck out, wobbling slightly as his big blue eyes filled with tears. “That’s not fair.”
“What’s not fair is having to waste my superpowers cleaning up other people’s messes,” said Supermom grimly, herding the Minions to their pigsty of a room.
Garbage was gathered, toys were tallied, and laundry lathered before Supermom finally granted the Minions release from their slave labour. They immediately experienced a miraculous recovery, their weary limbs revitalized by the cheerful sounds of Mario Kart.
Supermom smoothed the clean sheets, straightened the beloved stuffy sitting on the pillow of Monkey Boy’s bed, and went in search of chocolate, her superpowers drained dangerously low.
“No,” she whispered, horrified, at the sight of the empty cupboard. She scrambled up onto the counter and checked behind the herbal tea. “NO!”
There was no chocolate.
Not even a semi-sweet chip lurking in the corner of the baking drawer.
Shell-shocked, she limped into Wonderhubby’s secret lair and collapsed onto the floor beside his desk.
He looked down at her, concern creasing his brow. “Are you okay?”
A soft whimper escaped from her prone form.
He shoved out of the office chair and crouched beside her, appalled. “My god. What did they do to you?”
“Right, right, of course,” he said soothingly, patting her back before standing up and grabbing his wallet. “Hold on, I’ll be back.”
Time passed in a blurry haze, reality and unreality blending into visions of dust bunnies with monstrous teeth and smelly socks.
At last Wonderhubby returned, bags in hand. “I bought chicken, Chinese, and chocolate ice cream,” he said. “Which do you need first?”
*Names have been changed to protect the guilty.