It is the first lesson in great Storytelling. It echoes through the halls of film schools and marketing programs and lives between the lines of every great Story on the page or the screen. Show, don’t tell. Great Storytellers have mastered this technique for years.
Charlie Chaplin was one of the best at “Show, Don’t Tell.” Enjoy the famous boxing scene from “City Lights.”
“Show, Don’t tell” is about trusting and respecting your audience enough to know that they don’t need to be spoon-fed your Story. On the contrary, they want to work for it. They just don’t want to realize they’re working for it.
Imagine a farmer at the end of a hard day’s work. Does the farmer describe to the audience that he feels tired and his muscles are sore? Does he tell them he planted that old tree at the edge of the back forty? Does he look at the screen and say that he just doesn’t know how much longer he can carry on? No. You show him working in the field. He winces and massages his aged body. As he passes the big oak in the back forty he stops and runs his fingers along an engraving in a child’s hand. We see him sink into his bed and gaze out the window at the setting sun. He sighs…
Isn’t that more powerful? More engaging? “Show, Don’t Tell” is the first rule in great Storytelling because it works.
This ad below expertly executes the “Show, Don’t Tell” mantra. Just try to watch this without your eyes watering.