I’ve always been told that the very best writers ‘show don’t tell’. Not sure if this is always true but I’m happy to believe that it covers a good ninety per cent of the cases, so it’s something I always try to keep in mind in prose and poetry. And personally, I don’t think there’s anything more dull than a book that lays out every single detail in a litany of absolutes.
Anyway, as it turns out, my favourite example of ‘Show Don’t Tell’ doesn’t come from a book; it comes from a tv series: Boardwalk Empire – the opening credits to be precise. From the moment you watch the opener you know you’re in for something a little bit special. What I really love about this sequence is how it tells you everything you need to know about the world of Enoch Thompson, just by watching him watch the sea:
Even the way he steps away from the ocean with dry shoes demonstrates that, in his world at least, Enoch Thompson is untouchable.
Well worth a watch (the whole thing, not just the credits).
I wish I’d written all six seasons of Six Feet Under which, for me, is HBO’s finest series to date.
The series ran for five seasons and followed the lives of the Fishers, an extended family whose complicated relationships were all the more poignant because they were dealing with mortality almost every day.
Six Feet Under blended real life and fantasy so seamlessly it was almost like watching a poem being written on screen. The writing was trimmed to the bone: not a word of dialogue or a single scene was wasted. Truly brilliant stuff. I do a lot of fantasy/real-life writing myself and regard Six Feet Under as the bar to clear.
Weirdly, my favourite piece of writing didn’t actually appear in the programme; it was a strap line for the final season DVD. I don’t usually pay much attention to advertising, but I thought this phrase epitomised my whole experience with Six Feet Under: few words spoken, but so very much said: