What does my sheepdog mean when he puts his head in my lap and stares up at me? He might mean he loves me—really, really, really. He might mean he wants me to pet him. Please. Please. Please. He might mean that he’s feeling a little low and he would like to be told how good he is, preferably for the rest of his waking life. Good dog. Good dog. Good dog. Maybe he means something else I haven’t thought about. He could, for all I know, be telling me that he’s sorry for eating my tennis shoe, which by the way wasn’t nearly as good as he thought it would be. Do I always have to buy Converse?
SHOW DON’T TELL. Yes, but. Some gestures aren’t clear. They need context to make showing them add to the story. And sometimes they need more than that. Sometimes it’s more important to tell and violate the rule (this one is definitely made to be broken on numerous occasions) and be more specific. Expressing with precision the experience of the character—how they’re affected by what’s happening or how they affect another and the way it fits with the rest of the story—is vital. The reader has to be in on what’s going on in order to share the character’s experience. Show. Tell. It doesn’t matter how you do that. It just matters that you do.
Or so I think today.