Thursday, March 22, 2012

Don't Tell Me!

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."

Yesterday, I found this quote from Anton Chekov on my Twitter page.  Writer Beth Vrabel had retweeted it. Lannie Wright had tweeted it initially.  I'm so glad that it made it's way to me.  Chekov's point is essential to good writing, especially to fiction.  In narrative, the writer's task is not to TELL the story.  The writer's task is to bring the readers into the story and make them EXPERIENCE it.  The readers should be able to hear, smell, taste, touch, and see the story.  If the novel's character goes on a journey (literally or metaphorically), excellent writing grasps the readers and takes them on the journey too.  The journey should be one of both the senses and the emotions.

Remember, in school, when you used to bring things for Show and Tell?  Forget the Tell.  Show.

Telling: It started to rain as Siobhan made her way home through the glade.  Siobhan was happy.  She liked rain.

Showing: A misty drizzle kissed Siobhan's nose.  Joyfully, she threw back the hood of her gray cloak, releasing her golden-red hair as she lifted her face to greet the rain.  The drops grew bigger, caressing her face with refreshing coolness. (from Soul Searcher of Willowsong Woods).

Use specific, sensory details.

Non-specific: The house smelled good.

Specific and sensory: As I walked into the house, the smell of cinnamon and allspice wrapped me in warmth.
Today, take some time to experience something fully with your senses.  Walk along the beach.  Sit in nature.  Eat a chocolate chip cookie.  Whatever.  But really experience it.  What does the beach smell like?  What does it feel like?  Sitting on a park bench, what can you hear?  What does the sun feel like?  Is there a breeze? What does the bench look like?  How does it feel?  How do you feel, physically, emotionally?  What does a chocolate chip cookie really taste like?  What words could you use to help someone share the experience--hear the beach, see the park, relish the cookie?

Have you ever lived a story along with a character?

What brought the story to life for you?