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Writing Experiment – Show, Don’t Tell

08 Jan

My last post reveals a pleasant childhood memory written in a style that I hope communicates what happened and the humor of the situation.  As I’ve wandered through the blogs, forums, and websites of other writers, however, I’ve come to realize that it tells far more than it shows.

So, as an experiment, I decided to post a revision and see which one the readers prefer, and why.  Feel free to cast your vote in the comments below.

Summer Folly — revisited

I observed before me a thing of beauty—a massive piece of Styrofoam. Its beauty came not from its substance, but its potential. It perched there on the rocky shore of the lake, ready to jump into my arms, begging to be transformed.

“We could build a boat!” my cousin interjected

“That’s what I was gonna say!” I snapped, deflated.

“Well, then, let’s do it!” He pushed a mop of brown hair from his eyes and grinned. “I saw some wood behind the house.  Think you can find a hammer and some nails?”

My mood slowly lightened as various scrounged-up supplies materialized on a nearby dock, but the final pile of wood screamed “not enough!”

“Let’s draw it out first,” I suggested, feeling the tug of potential disappointment, afraid that the dream might slip between the cracks of the weathered dock and float away.

The chicken-scratch blueprint would not have passed code, but who cared?  A few hours, two sore thumbs, and several splinters later, a great feeling of pride and satisfaction swelled up inside.

“It’s ready,” I whispered almost reverently.

My fingers curled around the splinter-filled edge of our boat/raft/thing-that-might-float.  My cousin’s counting pulsed in my ear, and my heart prepared to soar as my muscles prepared to heft.  “One, two, three!”

But my beautiful Styrofoam would not move.

My sinking heart was buoyed only by my absolute incredulity.

“How did it get so heavy?”

It mocked me—the roundish white block that had just so recently flirted with my imagination now tossed those possibilities back in my face like so much rubbish washed up on the shore.

Sweat dripped down my face, and I licked my salty lips. “Let’s try again.”

My muscles screamed in protest and my cousin grunted with effort, and still the petulant raft pouted.  What did I do wrong? All my hopes and dreams for that day lay in that stupid piece of Styrofoam surround by a pile of pieced-together boards, and it wouldn’t work!

I sat and jammed my sweaty chin into my fist, glaring as if I could change it by sheer will-power. A stray nail sneaked its way into my hand, and I twirled it between my fingers until its presence suddenly jumped into my awareness.  My eyes darted between the nail and the wood, and realization washed over me as I fell backwards in uncontrollable laughter.

“Look at the nail!” I gasped, but the nail withheld its insight until I placed it directly beside the wood.  After an initial moment of hesitance, the nail—half an inch longer than the width of the wood—finally shared its secret with him, too.  We had nailed the raft to the dock!

—————–

Do you think that “show, don’t tell” could or should apply to other areas of life? Why or why not?

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2 Comments

Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Writing

 

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2 responses to “Writing Experiment – Show, Don’t Tell

  1. C.M. Subasic

    April 14, 2013 at 7:02 pm

    In terms of ‘show don’t tell’ don’t you think the idea is to find a balance? Showing too much can make for a choppy rhythm and tempts the writer to use adjectives and adverbs until they are distracting. This can come off as the writer is trying too hard (a.k.a. hyperbole) and with every line an intense experience it makes reading a slog. Keeping things simple can do a lot for pace and help ease your reader along. Save your big guns for the big moments. What can help a great deal in finding that balance is to read your work aloud, preferably to an audience.

     
    • Willow.M.Stevens

      April 14, 2013 at 7:48 pm

      I can see your point, and it’s a good one. I think balance in writing, as in all things, is preferable. As someone very used to “telling” stories, I may have gone a little too far with my experiment and now need to allow the pendulum to settle somewhere in the middle. But that’s the nice thing about experiments — they’re experimental. I’ve had some who liked the original “tell” version better, and some who liked the new “show” version. I, myself, liked and disliked things about both. Perhaps a meld of the two would make both groups happy, LOL. But ultimately it’s a way for me to try something new and find my own voice.

       

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