Let’s Talk About Writing: Show, Don’t Tell – by Judy Penz Sheluk…


Don’t Tell Me the Moon Is Shining; Show Me the Glint of Light on Broken Glass – Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)

I first read this quote, attributed to Anton Chekov, in a Creative Writing Workshop back in 2002. To me, it epitomizes the principle of Show, Don’t Tell, and in fact, I love it so much that I included it as an epigraph at the beginning of Moonlight & Misadventure: 20 Stories of Mystery & Suspense. The thing is, Chekhov didn’t write it, at least not quite as succinctly. According to Quote Investigator, this expression was constructed as a summary of the instructions Anton Chekhov gave to his brother, who had literary ambitions, in a letter written in May 1886:

In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.

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