This post first appeared as a guest post for “The Midnight Muse, Cristian Mihai’s inspirational column for artists, on irevuo, 11 February 2013.
Recently, I read a quote by Anton Chekov which said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
We are often told “Show, don’t tell” when our work is critiqued by others. But what on earth does that mean?
Even Chekov’s description of the moonlight on broken glass is still telling me that something with a given wavelength and brightness reflects off of a substance. When I think of “showing” something to someone, I want to *feel* what that looks like. Okay, so there’s moonlight, so it’s nighttime, and it must be at least only partly cloudy, and there’s broken glass (why?), but do I care? Am I sad because the glass was an old vase carefully handed down, despite wars and immigration, through generations, and was maliciously thrown across the room at me by a drunken adversary? Or is it bittersweet, because while I didn’t want the vase broken, it was broken by my toddler, born after years of wanting and longing for a child? Or did I break it myself? Or maybe it’s just a bottle that fell off the table?
Even a pretty detail like moonlight on glass is still telling, unless you can help me feel why it is that I care.
So, when reviewing your drafts, alongside the admonition to “show and don’t tell,” remember the twin sibling of that statement: “So what?”