Painting Pictures

          Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. ~Anton  Chekhov


One primary commandment stands out in my mind about learning the craft of writing. I heard this over and over again: Show don’t Tell. Mr. Chekhov up there on the header gave a great example. It sounds easy but we have to dodge the flowery adjectives, adverbs, use of ing’s and dialogue tags or we sound like ‘hack’ writers. 


My first writing group leader shared some ways to remind us how to show. She had six symbols on a piece of paper: 
a mouth for taste
a heart for feelings
a nose for smell
a hand for touch
an ear for sound 
and an eye for sight.  


On the right margin of our story we penciled in a symbol when we used a sense on a page. If we didn’t have five or six senses on each page it was time to rewrite. With a glance, you knew which sense you missed.


Later she added S and M-not that S&M- for Simile and Metaphor. One of each to a page. 


Following these tips helped show the story in just a few sentences. An example: “Mary took her dog on a walk,” became “Mary tied the cozy shearling coat around Don Juan, her spotted hairless Chihuahua, as he sniffed at the spicy aroma of chorizo wafting from the windows of the adjacent taqueria.”  I think I can pencil in three symbols in this one sentence. 

Next time someone critiques your writing and yells, “Show don’t tell,” just take a crayon, red pen, or whatever gets your attention and start using the right hand margin to note whether you’ve used the senses. It will be more work but you’ll exercise your brain and come up with some good, if not great, gems. 


Smart group leader isn’t she? She has some more handy tips for writers and when she publishes her book on them you’ll be the first to know. 



Categories: revisions, senses, show don't tell, writing tips

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