One of the most common bits of writing advice that we authors give each other is “Show, don’t tell.”
Don’t tell a reader what your character is feeling. Show through the setting, body language, dialogue, and prose what your character is feeling. I can easily see this advice being taken and ignored in books that I have read and pieces I have critiqued. But I have never really thought it applied outside of the writing world.
A few weeks ago, I had to opportunity to work a health fair advertising for the UFC Gym Cordova. Exercising is one of the joys I find in life and the classes at the UFC Gym are some of the best. But this post isn’t an advertisement. I’m not writing this on behalf of the gym.
When I was pitching the classes, the phrase that came to mind was that working out at the gym was one of the best cardio workouts that I have ever done. Personally, I have tried several different kinds of cardio in a class setting, with a personal trainer, and during an individual workout. With all that experience, when I say that the UFC boxing class was the best cardio workout that I have ever done, I think it has meaning.
The problem is that no one else knows that.
Telling a person who has never met me before that I have had the “best” time tells them nothing. “Best” could mean something completely different to them. The word ‘best’ has different implications based on the person, where they are, and what situation they are discussing.
What I should have said was that I was always on the verge of being out of breath, but felt a boost in confidence with every punch. The classes are fast paced and involved. The instructors break up the bag work with mitts, calling out punch combinations that you didn’t realize you knew how to do. What makes a workout the best in my book is one that is engaging, makes me sweat, and makes me feel accomplished at the end of the hour. That tired, yet satisfied feeling is one that I seek every time I work out.
At the health fair, I shouldn’t have described the classes as “the best.” Now I know. Showing instead of telling has applications far beyond my writing.