Monday, February 8, 2010

Let’s continue our topic of Show, Don’t Tell. Since yesterday’s post consisted of only a narrative without examples, I wanted to include one today to show the difference between showing and telling. This example is coming off the top of my head. Any of you could write one, and it would come out completely different, and probably much better. There are endless possibilities in the way it can be done. I’m not going to spend a great deal of time writing the examples, but I hope they will be sufficient to convey the essence of the idea.

Here’s what I need to include in this scene:
1. The narrator is ten years old.
2. He has a cat named Marshmallow.
3. The Walt Disney Show is his favorite program.
4. It airs at six o’clock on Sunday evening.
5. Walt has a mustache, and he always smiles.

The two examples below will show the difference between showing and telling.

     When I was ten years old, I always watched the Walt Disney show. The show aired at six o’clock on Sunday evenings. It was my favorite program. Walt had a moustache, kind of like my cat, Marshmallow. Walt always smiled when he was talking to the viewing audience.

What have we created? We’ve included all five of the necessary criteria to tell the reader what we wanted them to know. But could we have made it any more boring? Blah blah blah blah blah. We can do much better than that example. Let’s look at one option for showing.

     I have no clue what I'm eating. I don't have time to look at whatever it is that I'm shoving into my mouth. My eyes are preoccupied, staring at the round clock on the kitchen wall, watching the minute hand sneaking ever nearer to the twelve. It's getting close to forming a vertical line with the hour hand now. Six o’clock. Sunday evening. That magical time my whole life revolves around. It's only seconds away. Hurry! A quick gulp finishes off the last of my milk, and a swipe with the back of my hand catches the chin dribbles before they can drop to the floor. I'm off for the living room, upsetting the cat as he scurries quickly out of my path. Marshmallow's irritated hiss fades as he disappears down the hall, probably looking for a good spot to hack up a hairball to get even. It doesn't matter. I'll deal with it later.
     The crackling static buzz of the old Zenith console meets my ears when I turn the knob, and the hardwood floor greets my butt with an unforgiving howdy as I position myself in a front row seat, crossing my legs Indian-style. Seconds tick by as I stare at my reflection in the black screen. Come on! Warm up already! My patience is finally rewarded when the image comes into sharp focus and I hear that familiar voice. There he is — Walt Disney — smiling at me from below that handsome moustache. I feel the corners of my mouth rising in response. I can't help it. Life is good when you’re ten years old.

What have we accomplished, other than changing a short paragraph into two longer ones? We have “shown” the reader how important this program is to the narrator by his actions and his internal thoughts. We’ve added some tension by having him watching the clock hands as the time draws closer. The reader knows that this ten year old does not want to miss the opening of the show. We know there's a cat named Marshmallow living in the house, with a habit of hacking up hairballs. (I live with a Persian cat, so I've cleaned up my share.) We’ve also learned there’s an old Zenith console television in the living room and that the narrator sits cross-legged on the hardwood floor while he watches. We have an image of him smiling as the show begins, and we know he’s quite happy with his current situation. Finally, we've put the scene in present tense, adding more immediacy to it and allowing it to unfold as we read rather than appearing to be a retelling of a previous event.

As I mentioned, there are innumerable ways to write this scene. I could tighten this example significantly with some editing. And I’m sure any of you could do a better job. But rather than that, let’s do something else. It’s your turn now. But I’m providing a different set of criteria for you to include in your example. It should be fun. Are you up for it? Remember, we’re going to be Showing, not Telling.

And, yes, there will be a contest (with a prize!) after we get through the practice portion and the revision stage. Keep in mind that these entries are not automatically included in the contest. That Call for Entries will come later in the week. (I failed to mention that on a previous contest, and I don’t want to be guilty of it again.) These submissions are for practice only. I'm hoping it will be a learning experience and you'll get some ideas from the other submissions as well on how showing can be used to bring things to life.

You're going to write the opening of your story. Remember the importance of an intriguing opening sentence. Try to grab the reader from the starting gate. In addition, here are the facts you need to relate to the reader in 250 words or less. (My example was 253 words, so I know you can do it.) I won’t be checking to see if you’ve included everything, but the readers who post their comments probably will.

Include all of the following:
1. Your main character is 12 years old.
2. She has long hair, and we need to know the color.
3. She’s wearing white shorts, a tank top, and flip flops.
4. It’s a late summer evening.
5. Her parents are out, and she thinks she’s alone in the house.
6. Something is making her believe otherwise.

You can make it more than one paragraph (keeping the 250-word limit in mind) and feel free to use dialogue (internal or external). Put us in the scene with the actress playing your character.

1. Put a title on your submission. Something unique if possible.
2. There is no limit on the number of submissions, but no more than one per person.
3. Submissions will close at 9:00 pm CST on Tuesday, 2/9/2010.
4. Submissions will post for comments Wednesday morning, 2/10/2010.
5. The comment period will close at 9:00 pm CST Thursday, 2/11/2010.
6. All those submitting need to comment on at least five other submissions. More if you have time.
7. Email your submission to
8. Subject line should read: SHOWING – TITLE – YOUR NAME

And there you have it. Piece of cake, right? If this post is changed, you’ll see UPDATE in the post title at the top. If you'd like to leave comments on this post, please do so, but remember to email your writing sample.

Now “show me” what you can do. Have fun with it. Use your imagination. I can't wait to read them!

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