I feel like a better rule than “Show, don’t tell” is “Express, don’t state”

Because a lot of people interpret “show don’t tell” as “use visuals instead of dialog” or “play out scenes instead of referencing/describing them” which is an arbitrary rule that doesn’t communicate well what the issue is.

What I mean by “Express, don’t state” is that the facts of your story should be conveyed through the story’s elements instead of stated in the story.

If a character is depressed or guilt ridden, it should be expressed through their attitude, their actions, their decisions, their reactions, etc. instead of stating “this character is depressed”. Whether it’s done through dialog or a visual of a rainy cloud doesn’t matter, because it’s still conveyed directly to the audience instead of being evident in the text itself.

In fact, sometimes having a character describe a scene or a diagnosis or whatever using dialog can express a lot more than showing the scene itself.

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