Inspiration on how to show, not tell.
In college, my writing professors shared a constant refrain: “show, don’t tell.” I had a hard time grasping this nuance of writerly advice until I discovered a quote by Anton Chekhov — a Russian physician considered to be one of the greatest short story writers of all time:
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
For me, reading this quote made “showing” “click.” Not only does showing make writing far more interesting to read, it’s free of that boring clunkiness — that perceptible weight telling hangs on innocent passages of text that make them drag for the reader.
Often these “showing” parts make you swoon and sweep you off your feet. Consider this passage from one of my favorite novels of all-time: The Shipping News by Annie Proulx, a master of showing detail.
Here’s how Proulx describes Petal Bear, the main character’s abusive, philandering wife:
Grey eyes close together, curly hair the color of oak. The fluorescent light made her as pale as candle wax. Her eyelids gleamed with some dusky unguent. A metallic thread in her rose sweater…While she remained a curious equation that attracted many mathematicians.
The dusky unguent, that metallic sweater thread signifying “tacky.” The skin palor that cannotes someone almost unhuman. The curious number of “mathematicians” attracted to her as though she was an equation. All these incredible details paint a clear picture in your mind and these pieces scream: floozie.
When you’re working on your writing projects this year — no matter whether you write poetry, fiction, or nonfiction — remember Anton Chekhov’s light glinting off broken glass. Write well!