Writers hear this advice all the time. Readers want to see what the characters see, feel what they feel. They want to experience the story as if they are living it.
But what about in real life? Does it apply there?
When it comes to love, my husband is a big proponent of show don’t tell. He picks wild flowers from the side of the road more often than he buys me a bouquet of flowers. He selects a card from a deck of cards – always a heart – and composes messages for me. He randomly leaves rosebuds, or little sticky hearts, on my steering wheel for me to find of a morning. He will tell me he loves me, but he believes actions speak louder than words – and not just in romantic situations.
For example, our daughter was out of town on Father’s Day, so she called him. She texted me afterwards. “I hate that dad and I cant have a normal relationship where we show how we feel. When I said I loved him, he just said OK like he didn’t know what to say. I’m just sad that we didn’t grow up telling each other.” I shared this with my husband because I felt it was important for their relationship. He stuck to his “actions speak louder than words” mentality, even as I explained that sometimes we need to hear the words.
A couple weeks later, Daughter had a particularly rough week and was talking to her dad on the phone. He was supportive and encouraging to her, and before they hung up, I heard him tell her he loved her. I was so proud of him! When I talked to her later, she told me she almost cried when he said it. At the same time, she was disappointed in herself because she didn’t react any differently than he had. She didn’t know what to say. That saddened me.
In a deeper discussion, I learned that my daughter wished we had been more affectionate – with the kids AND with each other – as they were growing up. They don’t remember us holding hands, hugging, or kissing in front of them so when we do it now, they are embarrassed. Now I wonder, have they doubted that we love each other – and them? – because we didn’t say “I love you”; because we weren’t more openly affectionate?
I learned something from this experience. Actions can be a very compelling mode of communication, conveying what we are unable or unwilling, for one reason or another, to say. But words are just as important - they bridge the gap and tie our actions together.
Which camp do you or your characters fall in? Do actions or words mean more?