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Show & Tell | StoryADay 2024 Day 14

Such useful Iand terrible) advice. How to actually do it? Read on!

day 14 cover

The Prompt

Write a story outline and argument, where one character enters the space, and once character leaves at the end.
Write the outline like this: [Name] is in [place] doing [verb], [Name 2] comes in in, obviously [in this mood]; then this happened, then [Name] said; then [Name 2] said; then this happened…and so on.
Look for the moments of highest impact (drama, humor, action) and rewrite those moments, showing as much of the action as you can.
Then polish the ‘telling’ parts of the story to make them a little smoother.

Things To Consider

“Show, Don’t Tell” is useful advice for reminding authors that readers want to be ‘in the moment’ with the characters, but if every moment of our stories is written like that it would exhaust your readers.

Our job, as writers, is to direct the reader’s attention to important moments (and sometimes away from them, if you’re trying to surprise them or keep a mystery going). “Showing” is really useful for that.

“Telling” is great when you want to speed up the action or misdirect the reader.

Let me give you an example from Shirley Jackson’s classic story, The Lottery

The first part of this paragraph is very much in the narrator’s voice, telling us what’s happening.

Then, Jackson slows us down and takes us into the moment by following the actions of Bobby Martin:

“The children assembled first, of course. School was recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into boisterous play, and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix—the villagers pronounced this name “Dellacroy”—eventually made a great pile of stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other boys.”

Notice how the details become more specific as she moves into painting the picture for us. We can feel the stones, see the pile, picture the boys ‘guarding’ it. The ‘important’ part of this paragraph is not that the children are off school or that they are talking about school.

The important part it that they are gathering stones, so that’s where Jackson directs our attention, by using much more descriptive language than before. This is what I want you to do for a select few piece of your story, today.

When I say “polish up the ‘telling’ parts of the story”, I mean take the places where you wrote “And then [x] happened” and make them just a little more conversational or literary. (“She ran to the door” not “she stepped carefully across the shiny oak floor towards the closed French doors, careful to avoid the specific planks that she knew, through long practice, would reveal her presence with a telltale squeak underfoot.”)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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14

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28 thoughts on “Show & Tell | StoryADay 2024 Day 14”

  1. I have a hard time writing arguments into my novels because I don’t always want to go there, emotionally (I’m a bit anti-conflict, myself. Working on it…)

    I found the exercise really helpful today for sketching out another scene I’ve been putting off writing. Writing the outline version allowed me to be ridiculous (using phrases like ‘the women were all a-flutter’) while keeping all the moving parts in my head.

    Haven’t finished the story version yet, but the night is young…

    1. (Does it sound weird that I’m learning as much from these exercises as I hope you are? I feel like ‘StoryADay Julie’ and ‘Writer Julie’ are living parallel lives….)

      1. Well, isn’t that a good thing?

        I’ve only got last year to compare this too, but I think this year’s prompts are much more instructive, and much more boundary-pushing than last year’s.

        We all try to challenge ourselves. It’s just that “StoryADay Julie” is very good at setting instructive, developmental challenges. I’m surprised that “Writer Julie” hasn’t yet gotten used to that.

  2. There must be something in the air. I too wrote about a human/pet interaction.

    I found the exercise particularly helpful, because it forced me to think about showing and telling as a way to control pacing and focus attention. That was new to me. Writing this way made me feel a little awkward, like trying to do a new exercise or dance step, when all your muscle memories are trying to make you do it differently.

    1. Yeah, I felt off balance, too. Which I consider a good thing in an exercise. (It’s something that I see a lot in ski clinics in a more literal sense.)

      Typically, when I switch between show and tell, I’m taking a slow section of showing and compressing it into telling in order to place more emphasis on the reason the scene actually exists.

      I think this backwards approach may be something I try in future rough drafts and I’m curious what it will expose in my habits.

    2. I love that you embrace the awkwardness. I do feel exactly that way when trying a new exercise. It feels ridiculous to have to think so hard about how to move appendages I’ve owned all my life… 🙂

  3. I was just in a real life discussion about how it’s drilled into us to show, not tell, but sometimes telling is the better choice.

    My story was okay. It explains something in my backstories that that needed flushed out for me. And the moral was: when someone is breaking up with you for not paying enough them enough attention and you don’t actually want for that to happen, maybe try paying attention while they’re doing it?

    And right as I finished, my cat decided she Needs Attention. Hmmm… I guess I should give it to her, huh?

    1. OMG. That was a jumbled mess. Sorry. I’m going to blame the kitty and hope my actual story isn’t that bad. (I’m typing this with her nose touching my hand!)

  4. Day 14 complete. I like experimenting with show vs tell and simplifying the “tell” and emphasizing the “show” at the point of most action. I started by giving backstory, not super in depth or lengthy. Then I focused on the specific scene, coming into more detail as this argument/fight scene fleshes out and then ending it abruptly, leaving the reader to wonder and question what is true or not. Very fun exercise today.

  5. I struggle with show-versus-tell, so I think I am going to skip today’s prompt. I am too tired to think straight, let alone try to write show-versus-tell.

      1. But do you “question yourself” or does Andrew “leap up from his desk, grabbing at his hair and making strangled groans that would have worried a radiator repairman”?

    1. Prioritizing rest is a smart choice.

      I used to struggle with this concept a lot so I’ve been studying it and hope I’ve broken it down in a way that helps other folks who struggle. You can read through this on a day when you’re energetic and see if it makes sense. (Or not. ‘Not’ is always an option too…)

  6. It’s not as easy as it sounds – thanks for the challenge! And for the extra guidance each day. It is immensely helpful.

  7. Dear Andrew,
    Thank you so much. Your kind words mean a lot to me.
    By the way, I read your comment last night and you were so very correct. Please let me know whenever you come across any mistakes, flaws in my stories.
    Please keep writing, encouraging and inspiring through your writings and comments.
    God bless you and all the very best.

    1. Amazing that we’re almost half way through!
      Keep up the good work.
      And thanks for being such an active and supportive colleague, here.

  8. Another one with Rhys & Alfie. Between the outline and rewriting with more detail, 611 words. Think this might be a bit of back story for their story.

  9. The Thin Line Between Friendship & Relationship!!!
    I knew what I had to do when she told me about her friend’s (or should I call him her boyfriend?) visit to our house. I’d be my usual self. Let them take me for a fool, if they wanted to. There is no substitute to being truthful and honest.

    To begin at the beginning…….
    My daughter, Lalita was in love. She was studying in standard twelve in Calcutta International School. As she had to prepare for NEET, JRE and a host of other competitive exams, I tried finding the best tutors for her for tuitions, almost for all the subjects including the vernacular. Things were changing and keeping with the modern trends, one had to be academically brilliant to stand on one’s feet.
    Lalita would wake up, get ready for school at around nine in the morning and she wouldn’t be back home before ten at night. There were days when she would come back later than that, looking exhausted and dead tired.
    I was oblivious of the goings-on in her life when one day I chanced upon a group photo on Instagram. One look and I knew they were all her classmates, mostly girls, wearing the same checked, ash-coloured shirt tucked in the blue skirt. That was all right. But there were a couple of boys as well. What aroused my suspicion was to find Lalita standing in the front row in a white skirt and yellow T-shirt. While the tall, lanky boy behind her had also a matching T-shirt on! There was something about the way they were standing – the same coloured T-shirts, the liberty in their close proximity – that didn’t register well at all with me. Besides the fact that the pic was posted on Instagram, a channel that I seldom used, was reason enough to make me suspicious.

    I talked to my daughter about it but shaking her head vehemently, she denied any relationship with the boy.
    “We’re simply friends, Baba.”
    “Then why only the two of you wire a different dress and why was he standing behind you with that smug look?”
    My persistent questioning brought tears to my daughter’s eyes while my wife, who had also turned up in the room in the meantime, hissed at me in defence of her daughter,
    “Didn’t I tell you that HE is the most suspicious being in this God’s universe?”

    I dismissed her accusation summarily before turning to my daughter.
    “We were your age not so many moons ago. If there’s something going on between the two of you, beware.”
    My daughter huffed and puffed before leaving as did her mother.

    A few weeks later, while rummaging for an important paper, I discovered another cut-out behind our framed family photo on the top shelf of her almirah. It was one of those lovey-dovey photo so characteristic of lovers the world over. The boy and the girl sitting in opposite directions with their backs firmly conjoined.
    Whatever little doubt I had had till then was dispelled summarily at that moment.

    That day, she told me that she was going to sell her used books to College Street Market. She was a girl of the modern times. She didn’t bother to ask my permission whether she could sell the books that I’d paid for. I’d have tried to mend her ways earlier but things between us had soured too far and too fast for redemption.

    She also told me that Sujoy, her class topper, was coming to our house to help her carry the books to College Street, so there was no need to bother. I asked her whether Sujoy was the name of the boy I found standing behind her in the pic. She nodded.

    I felt awkward. What had become of the modern boys? Where was their sense of propriety, shame gone? How could a boy come to a friend, that too a girl‘s house for the purpose of carrying her books?

    Anyway, you had to give it to the boy that he was, after all, not a coward. Otherwise, he would have never come to our house knowing full well that he had to confront the troublesome father.

    He entered the room with a bag in his hand. In black jeans and a sky coloured shirt, he looked quite adorable. My beloved daughter, like a shield, led him in. I had liked him before this encounter as I had some kind of fondness for all school toppers. Now, up close, he looked quite attractive and decent.
    “Have a seat, Sujoy.”
    He sat down with a look of surprise on his face while my daughter sat across me on the other corner of the bed.
    “I don’t know what is wrong with your generation.” I set off. “The other day, I asked Lalita if she was in love with YOU….” I hit the bull’s eye straight away without any further preamble. At the mention of the last word, my daughter looked horrified as parents in our part of the world, are not supposed to talk in this manner to the friends, especially those coming to your house for the first time. While the boy, fiddling with his fingers, kept looking at his feet.

    “She replied,” I was determined to find out the truth at any cost, “we’re just friends, Baba. Am I not your daughter? Then why should I conceal the truth from you?”

    There prevailed an air of utter unease and discomfiture in the room. Lalita, with eyes fearful, her mouth agape, went on sadly shaking her head while the boy never did so much as to lift his eyes.

    “You may not be aware of it but I tried to implant the best values in my daughter from her early childhood. I can never forgive her….I mean, her image will be lowered in my eyes if she is hiding an all-perceivable truth from me.” I concluded.

    That was the first time when the boy cast a curious look at my daughter since entering the room. My daughter looked stupified and pained.

    Sujoy gave me a knowing look now while getting up from the chair soon afterwards.
    “Can we go to College Street for selling her books? You know, that’s why I am here today.” He asked me politely.
    Lalita fled out of the room while Sujoy came round the bed to touch my feet.

    I was later told by my spouse that Lalita had told her that she could never imagine a father talking in such a blunt manner like the way I did, to her friend.

    I don’t know what transpired later but they stopped seeing one after soon after. On enquiry, I leaned that they had broken up.

    When I asked my daughter, this is exactly what she had to tell me :
    “He was cheating on me, two-timing me with his childhood girl friend. I couldn’t have put up with his lies. Even then, I offered him an option. He had to choose between the two of us. I think I got his answer when he kept silent..”

    She narrated to me with a most painful look in her eyes.

    “You ought to have given him a chance. Besides, don’t we all lie at times?” I asked her, keeping my eyes on her all along.

    “I never told you a lie, Baba. When you enquired about him, we were nothing more than good friends. Our friendship turned into a relationship much later….”.
    The end

    1. Rathin,
      Excellent interpretation of the prompt. I always like reading your work, and they cause me to go back and double check the prompt time and again.
      Well don.

  10. OUTLINE: Joyce, 14, comes home from school and when she walks in she sees items from her bedroom have been ripped up and strewn all over. She knows at once their dog is the culprit. Delmont the dog runs in from the backyard but disappears again after Joyce screams at him. Hurt and furious, Joyce retreats to her room.
    NARRATOR: Delmont the dog, the bane of Joyce’s existence, had just destroyed their house again. DETAIL: Walking through the front door Joyce was already accosted by flying cotton fiber and shredded dotted pink pillow cases, which meant Delmont had gotten into her bedroom and destroyed it while she was at school. “Oh no!” She said, noticing her bedroom door was open. She stood in her doorway surveying ripped up books, her favorite doll from childhood now mangled, (she was 14 now), her cool sunhat torn to pieces.
    The blue feather she’d saved from a trip to Brite Lake when she was four and recently stuck on the hat was gone from it now, as well as everything else Delmont had been able to reach. She knew her dad would say it was her fault because she’d been in a hurry leaving for school this morning and forgotten to shut her bedroom door.
    Their living room had been mangled by the dog long ago so she didn’t enjoy being in there anymore. Just then Delmont ran in through the doggie door from the backyard. “Bad dog!” she screamed, running after him as he retreated back out the doggie door. “Bad dog!” she yelled again. She then went in her room and slammed the door. Dropping her backpack on the floor on top of wall to wall mess, Joyce laid down on the wreck that used to be the pretty spotted pink and white duvet with matching pillows. After she thought some more about what she would do about her room, and specifically about that dog, she would get up and start in on it. Something was going to have to happen with that dog.

    1. The dog would’ve been gone, or banished to the outdoors after the ‘Living room’ incident.
      Good outline, with a lot of room to move, and play with re the emotions Joyce would be going through.

      1. Andrew, I appreciate what you say here because it makes me see how to add things to make my story clearer. Like for instance, I should have either made it clear the dad let the dog get away with anything, or left the part about the torn up living room out. Where this story or story part ended, I meant it to subtly let the reader know that Joyce was going to do something drastic about the dog, i.e. get rid of it some way. Thank you. And thank you for finding it interesting enough to comment on.

    2. My mind is now busily plotting a YA romcom where Joyce takes Delmont to the shelter and is all, “You people kill dogs, right?” and the volunteer is appalled, but makes a deal with her: if she works with a trainer to make Belmont adoptable, they’ll find him a new home.

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