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Writing Experiment – Show, Don’t Tell

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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Posted by on January 8, 2013 in Writing

 

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On the birth of a Siamese Novel

I recently read a book called StrengthsFinder 2.0 that talked about not focusing too much on your weaknesses (i.e. trying to become well-rounded), but rather to capitalize on your strengths.  The idea being that an adequate natural talent can become decent with effort, but a strong natural talent can become awesome with equal, or even less, effort.

Although the book and its focus is designed to help people find their overall strengths in life with correlative advice on job choices and how to interact with other people with other strengths, I decided to apply it to my strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and decide what weaknesses might simply need shoring up or “out-sourcing” as opposed to what I should truly focus on improving.

Here are two of my strengths and two weaknesses.  Feel free to share brief versions of yours in the comments below.

Strength: action scenes

I’m a very visual person, so my stories tend to read like descriptions of movie scenes.  I may throw in a sound or a smell every now and then, and a smattering of touch or taste, but I primarily tell you what’s happening as I see it play out in the movie of my mind.  Consequently, my plotlines are typically fast and action-packed.

Weakness: feelings and character-building

As an antithesis to my strength, my plotlines quite often move so fast that the reader barely has time to take a breath, and neither do the characters.  I often have to remind myself (or be reminded) to show what my characters are thinking and feeling, and what motivates them.  I tend to find writing about such things boring, and–as I can’t imagine why a reader would want to read something that I, as a writer, find boring–it’s difficult to justify the effort.

Strength: dialogue

I often hear people ask how to write natural dialogue (obviously, it would fall into their weaknesses category), but going back to my description-of-a-movie-scene style of writing, I find that the dialogue flows rather effortless as I, again, watch the movie play out in my mind.

Weakness: editing

My first effort at a novel started when I was 16 and ended around age 20.  In that amount of time (random moments grabbed here and there between school and work obligations), I wrote a decent first draft.  Then I started editing it.  Or rather, trying to edit.  Since I regularly practice discovery writing as opposed to advance outlining, what I had thought was editing was really just a hideous amalgam of proof-reading combined with discovery re-writing, if you will.  I ended up taking it in a completely different direction such that the story wound up with the same beginning, a gradually divergent middle, and two completely different endings—neither of which I liked.  So what to do?  I balked at the idea of engaging in hours of surgery to separate the conjoined twins I had inadvertently birthed, especially after the hours over years it had taken to create them in the first place.  In frustration, I finally chucked the whole project and chalked it up toward experience.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?  Do you feel that you’ve been focusing your effort on trying to improve areas where you are simply adequate, or do you know your strengths and how to hone them to become the best writer you can be?

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2013 in Writing

 

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Writing Any Story

Writing a  book is no small feat, even for those millions who have already done so.  There are, of course, many shapes and sizes of authors, from those starving artists who nobly (but hungrily) dedicate their lives to writing, to the housewives, high-schoolers, and hobbyists who try to squeeze in time when they can.  Each is met with their own personal lies and truths that struggle to dissuade them from their task or compel them to complete it.

I am more on the side of the latter group, trying to squeeze blood from a turnip to finish the project that I started what feels like an eternity ago, trying to gauge its importance in contrast to the other parts of my life that are equally compelling and part of being human.  And I struggle with those lies that we tell ourselves about not being good enough, smart enough, skilled enough, or just…enough.  The truths that help me are to realize that I don’t have to be.

Each of us is on a journey, and though I’m tempted to go cliche and talk about smelling roses, it goes beyond that.  From the time we are born till the time we die, we are each shaped by the life we are given to live.  From those experiences spring our inspiration and from that, the words we choose to write.

Though I’ve often wished that certain experiences never would have happened, and that others would have, it occasionally occurs to me that without those experiences and lack thereof, I would not have the stories–both the nonfiction story of my life, and the fictional stories that spring from my eternal imagination–to tell.

What experiences have shaped you in your life, and how do they influence the stories you choose to tell and how you choose to tell them?

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2013 in Personal Experiences, Writing

 

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