Lightbulb Moments

I love lightbulb moments. For me, these are the times when I read a point, or an idea about writing craft and it’s like, literally a little lightbulb goes flash inside my head. You know: the penny drops; the shit makes sense; things fall into place, [Insert your favorite cliche here.]

Show Don’t Tell

The first for me was the concept of ‘show don’t tell.’ Yes, I’d heard the concept ad nauseum but I hadn’t really grasped what everyone meant until I read this, by Carolyn Jewel.

Corpus Delicti

“Halt, or I’ll shoot!”
Geneva did as she was told. Afraid she would be shot dead, she stopped, dropping her armload of grapeshot to the wet ground.

You’re busted. That’s telling. Not Showing.

But Why Did This Happen to Me?

Because it was the first draft, that’s why. OK, specifically, this is telling because I told you she was afraid. I didn’t let you figure it out.

Post Mortem

You’re writing along, thinking, the guard sees Geneva! Oh, no! “Halt, or I’ll shoot!” the guard shouts, he’s practically breathing down her neck. You see it all so clearly. You type the sentence:
“Halt, or I’ll shoot!”
Hmm, you say, if she doesn’t stop, the guard will shoot her, he can’t miss at this range, and then the story’s over. She better stop. You type:
Geneva did as she was told.
Gee, she’s carrying an armload of grapeshot. That stuff’s really heavy. She better drop it and put her hands in the air. I mean, Geez, who wouldn’t? The guy’s got a gun, for goodness sake. You type:
Afraid she would be shot dead, she stopped, dropping her armload of grapeshot to the wet ground.

The Verdict – You Told!

How do I stop it from happening again?

By rewriting. And while you’re rewriting, hold the picture in your head and feel the emotions. Because you already know what happens (this is the beauty of a first draft) you can now get to work.

“Halt, or I’ll shoot!”
Geneva’s heart slammed against her ribs. Her armload of grapeshot hit the ground like a sack of dead rats.

Note that in this version, I did not say Geneva was afraid. I said her heart slammed against her ribs. That’s a stand-in for fear. I did not say she dropped the grapeshot. I said it fell like a sack of dead rats, which is a stand-in for fear as well. So, perhaps you would choose a different similie, perhaps a sack of dead rats does not strike quite the right note for you. But then it would be your story, not mine.

I will always owe you, Carolyn Jewel, for making ‘Show don’t tell’ make sense.

****

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