A few years back I entered a couple of my stories for a competition at an online portal. Soon I faced a question from the more competent of my fellow writers. Did I favor the ‘show’ or the ‘tell’ kind of story telling.
Huh! Are there two kinds? It was news to me. I had merely written my stories the way I had envisaged them. How the heck was I supposed to know there were two kinds? You see I worked (and still do) among the pots and pans. As also the dusters and brooms. I did not know the answers to lofty questions of the sort. If someone had asked me how to make the Kerala style tapioca and fish curry, I would have readily given them the answer. Or if they had asked me how best to keep the white uniforms white even when the children brought them home all muddy and brown, I’d have jumped in with a suggestion or two. But ‘show’ and ‘tell’ styles of story-writing was a closed book to me.
Frankly I had stumbled on to the world of blogs by accident, and started writing as a lark. I had no illusions about my own writing abilities and simply wrote what came to my mind. All about the insignificant little things that happened around me. Also things on which I had an opinion. Yes, I had no shortage of those. And just like that one day I started writing what I considered were stories with no thought whatsoever of whether I was ‘showing’ or ‘telling’. So the question by the more savvy writers had me in a quandary. What did they mean? What had I let myself in for?
I never should have gone out of my comfort zone (my blog) and entered the stories in a competition, I thought. But I had to find what they were talking about. I did what any sensible person in the era of the internet does, turned to the all-knowing Google for answers. Mother Google told me in all earnestness: Show, don’t tell. Huh? So now one is better than the other? Everywhere I turned it was the same advice over and over again, ‘Show, don’t tell’. Show, what? Do not tell, what? The more I read, the more perplexed I became. I could have pulled my hair out in frustration, but I didn’t. My hair after all.
In the end though, I decided I’d do things my own way. To hell with ‘show’ and ‘tell’ or ‘don’t tell’ for that matter. I know there are a lot of people who set great store by the do’s and don’ts of story telling. A short story must be like this, It must not be like that. It must contain this. It must not contain that. Yada, yada, yada. If you are one of them, good for you, I say. I wish you all the best. But that’s not to mean I will/should follow suit. I started to write because I had something to write. My way. So, if I wanted to ‘show’ something I would ‘show’, if I want to ‘tell’ something I would ‘tell’. Or I might even combine the two. In short, my stories should remain my expressions, not forced to take on the shape to fit into some pre-designed jacket.
© Shail Mohan 2021