Show, don’t tell – a lesson from Bruce Springsteen
I received a copy of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run for my birthday. Among the evocative stories he tells from his life, one in particular struck a chord with me.
It’s the mid-1970s. Bruce and his band are starting to make it big. They’ve played shows in LA and hung out with Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Now they’re preparing to play a show in London and see if they could make it big there too.
But, as the band pulls up outside the Hammersmith Odeon, Bruce spots a problem. The huge illuminated sign outside proclaims: "FINALLY!! LONDON IS READY FOR BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN." And inside, a sea of posters announces him as the next big thing.
What’s wrong with that? As Bruce explains:
Bruce’s line of work may be show business, but his advice applies to writing too. If you want your words to resonate with people, to inspire or persuade them, you have to bring your story to life for them. You have to create a world with words, so they can see the bigger picture and decide for themselves.
Imagine this post consisted simply of me telling you what to do. Would it be as persuasive? Instead of telling you how to write, I’ve tried to show you why writing in a particular way is effective. I’ve used a story to back up my argument, one that comes from a well-respected source.
You can do the same whatever you’re writing about. If you’re selling widgets, don’t just tell people they’re great; show why they’re great. Use case studies and testimonials, explain the benefits and paint a picture of how readers’ lives will be all-the-better for buying your widgets.
This is what the best writers do successfully, and it’s what Bruce does in his autobiography as he aims, in his own words, to "show the reader his mind". It’s a great read.