Monday, August 8, 2011

She Was Frightened and Cold! by Linda S. Glaz

One of my favorite exercises is taking a telling expression and wowing a reader with what can actually be shown. This opening line is one horrendous jumble of telling. It definitely lets the reader know something about the character, but is it enough?

Here goes:
She was frightened and cold!
She shivered in the dark room, spiders from the ceiling dropping closer on their thin threads with each breath she took. Her arms wrapped around her chest as she clung to the last bit of warmth before the night enclosed her in frigid despair. Where had he put her? She sucked back another tentative breath. What was that? She reached over her shoulder and pulled eight crawly legs from her skin. Another shiver, and she gasped aloud as the dirt floor met her face.


Now, without using the word frightened or cold, we’ve shown the reader so much more. Just saying she was frightened and cold didn’t tell us she was imprisoned somewhere. Or that there wasn’t any heat. Or that bugs shared the same space with her. But the second time, we got all that and more without ever using the tag words.

Let’s see what anyone of you can do with an exercise of your own. Surprise us, make us happy, make us afraid. Wow! us.
Okay, so here’s the exercise:
He was ugly as sin. (Oh, how cliché, give us something new and wonderful!)

15 comments:

Sparrow said...

This is exactly the type of example I'm using in my workshop on "show, don't tell" next weekend at the FaithWriters' conference. Love it! See you there.

Melissa K Norris said...

His skin resembled a long forgotten tomatoe in the back of the crisper door. Red, squishy, and with twin black spores staring out at the world.

I'm working on showing not telling so this exercise was great. Thanks!

Rita Garcia said...

The scar carved on his cheek, served as a reminder of the ones that poisoned strands-of-bitterness had woven much deeper. The permanent grimace that time had etched on his face mirrored his expectations of life. His laughter rang in the hall, when a guard mentioned how happy he should be that after twenty years he’d finally been vindicated. He stepped from the bus, and a woman, jerking her child with her cringed and turned away.

Karla Akins said...

Wonderful post on show vs. tell. I'll give this a shot:

The boils erupted on his skin first as bulbous pockets of oozing pus that flaked off like ash as they dried. With shaking hands, scarred from the ravages of the disease, he scraped at the drying pocks with a pottery shard and sat among the ashes.
"Curse God and die." His wife scowled, repulsed at his disfigurement. Instead of the lover of her youth, she beheld an oozing mass of dying flesh. The stench was overpowering. How would she ever touch him again? Or allow him to touch her?

Job winced at the look of disgust in her eyes. "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”"
His mouth parched while his eyes watered in pain and he moaned at the rotting of his flesh.

Sharon A. Lavy said...

Poor Job. To his wife he probably was as ugly as sin. I never thought about what a blow her reaction was to him.

Anonymous said...

What a fun exercise. Thank you!
His rotten smile revealed five remaining teeth, top-rimmed in black and crooked, but functionin. He bit off chunks of ham between smashed bread, not bothering to clear the honey-baked drool from the corner of his chapped lip. But those eyes. The eyes of a young man with hopes stared through the brown puckered holes of skin.
I put down a twenty and left him at the diner. The change could go to some well-deserved whiskey.

Linda Glaz said...

Oh, you guys, these are wonderful! What fun to really flesh out such a simple sentence, and yet, we read phrases like he was ugly, or a stray dog walked past them, and there's so much more that can be said. Wow! Sharon, you're right, we never thought of it from Job's wife's pov OR how that must have made him feel knowing how she looked at him. You ALL showed so much as the stories unfolded. I could SEE each character. A couple years ago, I was a hard sell when it came to show vs. tell, but little by little, I started to see the light. I BELIEVE! I am a true believer and the stories I read now with strong showing just blow me away. Great posts, folks, really great!

Lisa Lickel said...

So we're ditching all those Strunk and White and CWG lessons that scream pare it down! Say it in the fewest words possible! I've seen a couple of lessons lately that want fleshing out and I'm so glad...I adore adjectives and adverbs.

Mason's eyeless socket reminded me of a moon crater without the glamor. Shadowed beneath the dark hoodie, the side of his face appeared to be one giant scar, a crevasse that melded into a permanent leer.

Linda Glaz said...

Good, Lisa and good point. I'm guessing the pare it down can still take place, but in the areas that aren't moving the story along and there are always a couple chapters to get rid of. I know each show can't be this elaborate, but oh, does showing ever tell a good story!!!

Davalyn Spencer said...

The superior tilt of his strong chin told me he was accustomed to winning. Ice glittered in his dark eyes, and through them I finally saw what he really was—and the blackness of his heart.

Linda Glaz said...

Oooh, Davalyn, I hate to admit it, but he sounds sort of:
He was hot! instead of:
He was ugly as sin. But I like it!
Thanks for participating. Okay, I'm a sap for bad boys! What can I say?

Lee Abbott said...

This exercise reminds me of our vet's comment when we brought in our rescue dog.

"This pup's as cute as hell."

Best meaningless descriptive phrase I've every encountered. Wish I'd thought of it myself.

Linda Glaz said...

That just about says it all, Lee!

Heather Marsten said...

When Joe walked down the street, people averted their eyes. When he was born, his mom glanced at her little bundle of joy and wanted to give him away. His face was marred by the forceps used at birth, and never sprang back to natural. Perhaps his appearance would be more acceptable if he used basic hygiene, but the blackheads and ingrained dirt emphasized his misshapen features. And his breath was so rancid, people took several steps back when he tried to talk with them.

Question - while showing is good, sometimes word count requires telling. He was ugly as sin, is far shorter than any showing.

Kathryn Elliott said...

He had a face only a cataract plagued mother could love. (Best I can do on a deadline day!) :-)