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  • Writer's pictureHayley Finch

Show, Don't Tell

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

When you start doing creative work of any kind, some of the first instruction you'll hear is: "Show, don't tell." It's solid advice. You'll hear it in networking conferences, online courses, and from speakers at seminars. You hear it so much, that I was surprised to learn it doesn't always apply.

It's on a project by project basis, but this will outline a couple of scenarios that show each approach. Writing Fiction: Show This might be the first place you hear the advice, and it makes so much good sense here that it could make you think it always applies. Would you rather have the author tell you: It is raining. She is running inside with a lot to carry in her arms. The lightning is in the sky, and she feels the rush of adrenaline while heading to the front door. Or show you: The rain pelts my skin with a force so strong, it soaks right through the thick, itchy denim of my jeans. While running to the front porch, the paper handles of the grocery bags are holding up, but I keep watching for a sign that they'll give out to the weight. In a race against the sky, the lightning flashes as if to say: "Ready, set, GO!" Some of the difference is definitely that it is in first person, but do you spot what that means? Show, don't tell? Don't tell the reader it's raining hard, show them the thick denim of the jeans are soaking through. Don't simply say that there is lightning, show how the lightning adds urgency in the race to the door. This type of scenario is the first way I heard of the "show, don't tell" principle, and it is so convincing that you would think it must be a fit everywhere. But that is not always the case.

Assembling a Publication: Tell


Every week at HITIDES Coffee, I've written an article for new editions of 'The SunDaze.' It's an easy, tabletop read in the coffee shop, and it creates an avenue for the brand to speak to the customers in meaningful ways. For the month of June, we are doing something different. Since June is the peak season for heading to this tropical shop, we are releasing an actual newspaper titled 'The June Issue' for The SunDaze. This project opens doors for curated collaboration with several writers. I have had the chance to ask artists for pieces on certain topics, and organize how it all fits together under the brand messaging. It needs to fit the umbrella of "tropical destinations" and "the vacation state of mind" that is present throughout the shop, since it is inspired by the places and people of Hawaii. My initial thoughts looked like this: - A close-by travel rec: Our CNC operator is writing a piece about his weekend getaway to a little-known treehouse village spot close to KC. - A 'local getaway' event: One of our MC's for the concert series 'Under the Palms' is writing a piece covering what to expect from this tropically themed event at HITIDES Coffee. - A cover story linked to Hawaii: I am writing a story on how the florist is now sourcing the flowers in the retail bouquets from the Islands in Hawaii. - A story about traveling to a tropical destination: I am writing a story about something specific I learned on a trip to a valley town in Thailand. Plus fun mazes, coffee shop/vintage surf ads, and themed crosswords! At first glance, it made so much sense to me why these articles were being assembled under this publication. And by applying the principle of "Show, don't tell," I believed I was complimenting the fact that the reader would inherently get it. Until someone raised the question: What if they don't? What if they don't get it? What if it feels like, why am I reading about a treehouse village in Missouri, and then Thailand? Why am I reading about the concert series, and then the florist's Hawaiian flowers? And that was when it clicked. By adding a sentence or two in each piece, I could clearly state why it belonged in the overall message of the publication. By adding this sentence to the piece about Thailand, it clears the air: "If you’ve ever been to a tropical destination, you know what I’m talking about. As someone who has never been to Hawaii, this is where HITIDES takes me to." This concept also jumped out to me afterwards, when reading the summer issue of The Magnolia Journal where the theme word for the issue is "Savor." Just about every article does have an obvious tie-back to the theme of the issue, and clues the reader in to how the piece was relevant. So in this case: Tell, don't show. Instead of giving space for the viewer to get it, just tell them directly.

Company Branding: Show This one may be a quick example, because it can be demonstrated so easily. When designing company branding, I like to create several different versions of the logo, as well as providing a few custom icons that support the feel. How fun is it to use those little paw prints for bullets on a slide show? Or to use the bottom left icon as your watermark? But one version that I prioritize is called the "Full Story Logo," which is located on the bottom right. I call it this, because this version allows the viewer to know lots of details about the business from one shot. It is a great version for a first introduction, such as being a speaker at an event, or front and center on a business card. The full story logo tells everything you would want your customer to know. Here are a few things you can instantly figure out from this logo: - New Leash on Life services varied sizes and ages to dogs, per the illustration. - The company is longstanding, and was established in 2010. - In an indirect way, it lets you know that this is a dog training company, by telling you that the approach is for "lovingly training your pet" and only showing dog illustrations. It's the different between a tagline that says: "Dog trainer" = tell or "lovingly training your pet." = show In this case? Show, don't tell.

Landing Page: Tell Whether it's a website, or a profile page, this is not the space to create mystery.


This page can be your introduction, at times. There are many instances where a potential

customer or connection will check out your website or profile before deciding to work with you.

If you are multi-disciplined, especially, it is important to make it as clear as possible.

From the example above, title the exact purpose for each Instagram highlight. Don't make the viewer guess what it's about!

When they're meeting you online: Tell, don't show. By going between the two, and knowing how to use them, you'll add a layer of depth to your work that keeps it fresh for everyone who meets you. ⚫⚫⚫

If you’d like to sign up for Branding Design or Writing Coaching, send me a hello!

Cover Image captured by Liz Davenport of Sunshine and Shadows Photography.

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