The tyranny of show don’t tell

I’m so constrained by the show don’t tell writing commandment these days it feels like working with a straightjacket on. For those not familiar with the concept, it is deemed to be the hallmark of good writing that the author shows you what emotion or dynamic is at play (through dialogue, body language, behaviour, surroundings) rather than telling you. Telling it straight is like burning a church (incidentally, my grandmother once told me that mashing new potatoes – I was going through a mashing everything phase – was like ‘burning a church’ and I’ve since discovered that this was something of an exaggeration and in fact no charge of sacrilege can be brought connected to potatoes).

At the risk of stretching the point a little, may I present:

The Climax of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, shown not told (translation in brackets).

Goldilocks was woken by the sound of heavy footsteps, the scrape of claw on wood. Through half-closed eyes she noticed large shapes blocking out the light. Her hands flew to her throat, which filled with a silent scream, when she realised she was in the presence of three bears.

(Goldilocks woke with a start when the three bears came into the baby bear’s room. She was desperately frightened at the sight of the bears.)

“Someone has been sleeping in my bed,” said the smallest bear, jumping up and down, his voice unnaturally high, “and here she is!”

(“Someone has been sleeping in my bed,” said the baby bear, full of excitement, “and here she is!”)

Goldilocks leapt out of the bed, climbed out the window and ran away, the muscles in her little legs aching as her feet pounded a rapid rhythm on the forest floor.

(Goldilocks jumped out of the bed, climbed out the window and ran away as fast as her little legs could carry her.)

God it’s exhausting!