I regularly post articles featuring The New Leaf Journal’s fictional dialogue duo, Justin and Justina. In today’s entry in the long-running series, Justin decides to tell Justina about an interesting quote in read in an assessment of the 1998-99 anime series, His and Her Circumstances (commonly known as Kare Kano). The author of the analysis, Mr. Norbert Daniels Jr. of Anime News Network, opined that His and Her Circumstances violates the “show, don’t tell” rule of writing fiction, but “does so with incredible results.” While Justin, like the author of this dialogue, is a fan of His and Her Circumstances, he questions whether show, don’t tell is really how things work in the world.
Dialogue: Testing the show, don’t tell rule of writing in the real world
Today’s dialogue features Justin and Justina sitting on a bench on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. They are enjoying coffee. Justin pulls out his phone to read from an article that he saved into his favorite read-it-later solution, Wallabag.
Justin: I read this very interesting quote. I want to share it with you.
Justin: So this is a review of His and Her Circumstances.
Justina: His and her what?
Justin: It’s an anime series that aired in 1998 and 1999. Very good before they ran out of money in the second half and ended in the middle of a conversation.
Justina: Right… why would anyone write about this?
Justin: I’m going to read the quote. See what you think.
Justina: It’s not like I have a choice.
Let’s say you want to tell your audience that your character is angry. You could just have them say ‘I’m angry.’ But how often does a person in real life ever plainly announce their anger that way? Have you ever been able to tell someone was angry without them telling you? What if instead of having our character say ‘I’m angry,’ you write them entering their house and slamming the door behind them so hard that picture frames fall off the wall and shatter on the floor. Air hisses out of their mouths as they huff and puff through gritted teeth. That’s usually better writing. That’s what ‘show, don’t tell’ means.Norbert Daniels Jr. writing for Anime News Network
Justin: Now I agree with his analysis of the anime, but let’s focus on the quote. What do you think of that?
Justina: I don’t know?
Justin: High rising terminal.
Justina: I’m feeling a rising anger.
Justin: See right there.
Justin: I think the rule might be wrong.
Justina: The show, don’t tell thing?
Justina: What about it?
Justin: From my experience at least, real people are big on telling me exactly how they feel.
Justina: Maybe you’re just weird.
Justin: They certainly wouldn’t do anything like slam a door. They sometimes don’t show any emotion at all. Just say it plainly.
Justina: Really? Who? Do you even have friends?
Justin: I’ve had people say things point blank like I’m angry, I’m concerned, I’m so traumatized right now, etc.
Justina: Really? Weirdos.
Justin: I even had someone explain to me in detail how sh… that person uses social media for the explicit purpose of reminding him or her that everyone in the world is happy but this person and.
Justina: Wow, who is this friend? I mean this person is right but who would just say it like that? Are you making this up?
Justin: It’s so bad that even I started doing it. Rubbed off on me, you know?
Justina: Are you sure you weren’t always doing that?
Justin: Find myself saying stuff like I’m very angry right now or I’m very upset right now.
Justina: I mean in your case you don’t really show emotions.
Justin: That made me feel nothing.
Justin: I just don’t know that this rule describes the real world.
Justina: I think you’re just weird and have weird friends.
Justin stares at Justina while saying nothing.
Justin continues to stare.
Justina: Say something! I don’t do well with silence. The silence is making me twitchy.
Justin: Yet you didn’t twitch at all while saying that. Very interesting.
Justin takes notes.
Justina: I feel like I’m being made fun of but I really don’t get it.
Justin and Justina are, to some extent, inspired by real life experiences and people I have met and talked to (this should be obvious from the fact that some of the dialogues have a second Anecdotes category designation and one Justin story from August was inspired by my own travel experience). Justin’s and Justina’s tendencies to tell, not show how their emotions are both inspired by real conversations that I have had. The difference, as you will see in the articles, is that Justina does it more naturally while Justin usually does it in the context of one outrage or another or to subtly copy Justina’s manner of speaking.
I offer that context to explain why, when I read the Kare Kano article this morning, I initially did a double-take. I am aware of the show, not tell rule and I docked my choice for the third best anime of 2022, Shadows House, for running afoul of it on occasion (see best writing award section). The rule is fine and generally sound. But to the extent that Mr. Daniels suggests that one seldom comes across a person who “plainly announce[s] [his or her] anger” by saying I’m angry, I must respectfully dissent from that one section of what is otherwise an entirely agreeable assessment of His and Her Circumstances (before it ran out of money and went off the deep end in its last few episodes, that is).