Tag Archives: Show don’t tell

Drawing Your Reader Into Your Story

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

Only…

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.

Yet…

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,

Bereft.

 

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!

Jesi

Show, Don’t Tell

My house has been overrun. I am under attack and have tried to batten down the hatches, build foxholes, and all that military terminology describing hiding in my closet. I have way too many people in my house demanding my undivided attention. My nerves are frazzled, no, wait…they are not frazzled. They are cut electric lines spitting out sparks and looking for something to ignite. I am currently devising a plan to get me the heck out of here for a few days next month (I hope-I really need a break.) because someone is going to get hurt, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be my brain.

I am not doing so well on my writing goal, although I have been writing every day, which is great. It’s mostly poetry, but I am writing several a day and I can feel the inspiration flowing. I have been coming up with ideas and taking extensive notes because I really am trying to stick with one project at the moment. But, it’s been hard to find any time or peace and quiet this last week. I haven’t been the only one up in the early hours, which means there is no quiet because (sorry for the stereotyping here-just understand I’m speaking in generalities) you men cannot be quiet at all. I don’t care if it’s closing a door or taking a shower, the men in my house have no idea what “shhh, people are sleeping” means. And when I say “early hours” I mean “early”, as in “did you even go to sleep?”

One of the things I’ve done to try and get some story writing done is I’ve turned back to this book I love called The Practice of Poetry (which I mention a lot because…LOVE) by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell. It is filled with some very good exercises. And today I wanted to share one which stood out recently. I haven’t done it myself yet, though I am practicing it with my current work in progress.

The exercise is called Intriguing Objects/”Show and Tell”. You are supposed to grab an object, any object, and talk about it. Tell it’s story because it has one. Where did you find it? What drew you to it? How did it come to you? Then, after telling it’s story (this is a group exercise) you are to write about it in some way (poetry, prose, play, etc). Unfortunately, I’m not in a group setting so I thought about it differently. It brought to mind a common writing mantra-show, don’t tell.

One very common mistake most beginning writers make is in their descriptions, whether for a character or setting. “The tree was tall and had green leaves, which blew in the wind. Diane saw the tree. She put her hand on the trunk and looked up. She could see the sky through the leaves.” Do you see what I mean? The description is boring. It reads more like stage directions to me. And, yes, people do actually have manuscripts that read like this.

What if it read more like this:

“The tree towered over Diane, and she could see the leaves dancing in the breeze. She put her hand on the rough bark of the trunk to steady herself. Just looking up at the soaring height of the tree made her dizzy, so she focused on trying to spot the azure sky through the canopy of leaves.”

See the difference? In the first one, you are being told every little thing. There’s no imagination, no creativity. In the second, there’s more description, it’s active. You get a sense of who Diane is. Does she get vertigo? Where is she? How big is the tree? You want to know more about the story, don’t you?

Show, don’t tell. It’s such a common mistake but easily fixed. Go find yourself a dictionary and a thesaurus, and practice writing descriptions. That’s your exercise for today. 😉

Jesi