Friday, March 2, 2007

Don't Tell Me Mary Cried

By Florence Cardinal

Florence Cardinal

Draw pictures with your words. Let the reader see what's happening. Show. Don't tell. Excellent advice for both beginning writers and for pros. But how is it done?

Don't tell us Sharon is pretty or Tommy is clumsy. When describing your characters, let us see them so we can decide for ourselves.

EXAMPLE #1: Sharon tossed her head and her long dark hair draped over her shoulders like a cape. She smiled and her brown eyes twinkled. Her face shone with an inner glow.

EXAMPLE #2: Tommy hurried along the street whistling a happy tune. Then he stumbled over a crack in the sidewalk. His library books flew out of his arms and landed in a mud puddle and his face turned red.

You can do the same thing with settings. Your readers can't see a hot afternoon in the city or a wintry day at the lake unless you draw the picture for them.

EXAMPLE #3: Lenny raced down the sidewalk toward the shady Town Square Mall. He was eager to escape the sun that scorched his back through his thin T-shirt. The hot cement blistered his bare feet. The breeze that ruffled his hair felt like a blast from a furnace and smelled of melting tar.

EXAMPLE #4: Frosty air nipped Laine's nose and she snuggled her face deep into her fur collar. She watched as Dad hitched the team to the hayrack. Whipped cream mounds of snow buried the shoreline of the lake. She scrambled onto the rack and burrowed into the hay. As the horses stepped out onto the frozen surface, the ice snapped and crackled beneath their hooves.

How about feelings? Don't tell me Joey was happy. Let me see the sparkle in his eyes and the grin he can't hide as he settles himself onto the seat of his new red bike.

Finally, don't tell me Mary is sad. Don't tell me she cried. I want to share in her misery and feel her pain.

EXAMPLE #5: Mary stared out the window as her friends strolled by. If Dad hadn't grounded her for not cleaning her room -- again -- she would be on her way to the beach, too. She bit her lip and drew a deep breath. A giant fist seemed to be gripping her throat and her eyes burned. Then tears filled her eyes. She slapped moisture from her cheeks with an impatient hand and turned her back on the sunlit street.

Word pictures bring your stories to life. They let the reader in on what's happening. Keep your writing exciting. Remember: Show. Don't tell.

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