I apologize for my extreme tardiness. I had an overly busy weekend that seems to have extended itself into today. So, this is going to be short.
Yesterday, in my Critique Group, we reviewed a short work that was an assignment the author (AJ) was given. She was given a choice of a picture, song, or poem, and told to write what she saw. It was a “show, don’t tell” assignment. AJ chose a picture which happened to be Judith Beheading Holofernes by Caravaggio, and the story she wrote from that had me captivated and intrigued.
The main thought that kept circling in my head was how excellent an exercise this was for writers. Especially for beginners. One of the biggest problems I’ve had in my writing is the tendency to write exactly what I see in my head. Most of the time this is fine. However, I forget that I’m seeing a scene in my head that I’m trying to describe to an audience and I want to bring that audience into the scene with me. That means showing them by using descriptors and metaphors that put them there, not giving them stage directions, that will bore them and make them not want to know more. It’s not enough to know it’s raining; they need to feel the rain as well.
The exercise AJ had to do was such a great way to practice this technique. It forced her to bring her reader into the picture, which she did very well. Another way of accomplishing this would be to write for 30 minutes about where you are right this very moment. Are you sitting down at a desk like I am? Are you in a park? Describe in detail what is going on around you, such as the noises, the scents, etc. Use your five senses and bring me to where you are. Show me, don’t tell me.
This works for poetry as well. Last week for the poetry challenge I am doing I was supposed to write a poem about risk taking. Instead, I wrote about a dream I had the night before which continued to haunt me throughout the day. So, I wrote a poem about that instead. You tell me, did I bring you into my dream or not?
You Were Not There
By Jesi Scott
Last night, I had a dream about you,
But you were not there.
I know it was you I dreamed about because
I felt you all around…
But you were not there.
I walked the rooms you had walked in,
Placing my steps in the same places you did.
I sat in the chairs you sat in
Imagining you reading into the depths of the night.
I laid my body on the couch in just the same spot,
In just the same way, that you did
The cushions had forgotten your shape
And so, I could not feel your body next to mine.
The chairs were hard and cold,
And did not retain the memory of you in them.
The floors had erased your footprints.
You were not there.
When I looked I noticed the relics of your presence:
Old, worn shoes left by the front door
Waiting for you to put them on again,
The book you turned upside down on the last page you had read
Waiting for the caress of your hand on its pages,
The cup you left by the sink, unrinsed,
Waiting for the softness of your lips pressed against its rim-
All of us waiting for your return.
Yet I could not wait forever so I turned away
and opened my eyes eager to see your face…
But you weren’t there.
And I am left,
Personally, I think it could use some editing. I could have described the couch more or maybe I could have mentioned the table that the book was lying on. What about adding a clock ticking somewhere? Or did I manage to pull you into the poem by not showing you everything? Showing can mean a little or a lot, and part of our job as a writer is to know when just enough is good enough. Too much can take away from the overall scene by being too descriptive, and too little can leave a reader trying to figure out what’s going on.
Try it for yourself. Find a picture that captures your interest and write to show, not tell, and bring your audience into it.
Have a great week!