I’ll Tell You Mine If You Tell Me Yours

In Writing - Understanding Style and Technique on February 6, 2010 at 8:28 pm

I should have called this space Bang Head Here (Once In Awhile) or maybe even Pressed for Words.  I planned to make online courtesy visits to my own blog at least once a week.  Three weeks and zero posts later I’m trying to decide on the direction of this cyber thoughtlessness.  For now, I’ll continue with the topic of continued frustration and head banging: Writing.

There are times I question why I started this process.  Why, oh, why did I think I could simply tap a keyboard and words and images, in all of their glory, would dance from my head onto lighted screen?

What shows up on my monitor screen is not pretty.  Like a scrambled secret code.  I know what I want to say but how the heck do I put words together that effectively communicate the thoughts I want to share?

The day I decided to try cracking the writing code was the day I became a dreaded online Lurker.  I sought out writing sites big and small, sites with thousands of participants all the way to unknown writing forums tucked into the lining of  internet pockets.  I stayed on the sidelines and read everything, posts, comments, how-to’s and followed so many links my index finger lost all feeling at times.  There’s a lot of writing out there just like mine.  Bad.  Bad.  Bad.  My face turns red reading it as I cringe knowing I’ve written much the same.  And all of the good writers suggest the same thing every time in critiques, Show Not Tell.

What a saying.  Show Not Tell.  I’d never heard it before seeking out ‘the code’ yet those words are typed onto writing sites a dozen times every 3 seconds.  Okay, I thought, that’s my solution.  I haven’t been including all of the colors and scenery and knee creaks the reader needs to see the story as I see it.  No problem.  I pulled the Thesaurus closer, adjusted the height of my chair and tapped out the code.

I chose an existing paragraph for the transformation:

****‘Billy and Sidney were in the yard tossing a football back and forth.  I settled down on the grass to watch at a comfortable distance from the girls sitting at the picnic table.  I was still shy around Lindsey and Billy, the new neighbors.’****

And began to incorporate the code:

****‘Using his palm Billy bopped the ball into the air, forcing it upward the moment it dropped down with a heavy sounding impact each time it thudded his open-palmed hand.  It was not a real football, only half the size and constructed of thick rubber molded to form its distinctive shape.  Thick painted bands of white crossed-stitching raised slightly from the surface on one side of the ball in an attempt to authenticate its look, with patches of tiny, raised bumps densely covering its remaining surface.  The ball itself did not matter, it was more what it represented.  The boys seemed to transform at the touch of it.  They no longer walked; they strode.  They did not tag; they tackled.  They puffed out their little boy chests and, for a moment, thought of themselves as men.  I was observing this as Billy bounced the football against his palm.  Sidney, my lanky, scrawny brother, was standing without the usual hunch to his shoulders in an attempt to push out his chest bones, waiting for Billy to throw the ball his way.

I was perched idly on the lawn, my skinny spindly legs crossed, having positioned myself between the white, child-sized picnic table and the engraved column of white ceramic topped with the smooth rounded bowl of a birdbath.  A sweet scent of freshly mown grass lingered in the air.  Linsey had positioned herself on top of the picnic table, the white soles of her tenner shoes propped flat on the bench below.  Next to her Marilyn was sitting, swinging her legs, dangling them from the side edge of the small picnic table, as she watched the boys throwing the football.  Marilyn was big for her age and her sizable sneakers were grazing the tips of the cut grass as her legs swung back and forth.  None of us, among the girls, made a move to join the two boys playing football.’****

huh.  easy.

That’ll show ‘em, I thought, and sat back in my chair to read the next New York Times best seller.

My shoulders dropped.  Ugh.  Loaded with code my sentences were like boulders in the road that had to be moved aside to get to the story.  Maybe I didn’t execute the code properly.  Or, maybe there was another link to the code that I hadn’t connected yet.  I was beginning to understand the concept of Show Not Tell, but there were more secrets out there to uncover.  This was not going to a quick trip to the park.  This was going to be a journey.  I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into a paper bag and headed back into cyber space.  I’m turning Lurking into Learning.  I’ll return to Tell you all about it.  The Show must go on!


Activating the Tenses

How to be more active when you tense.


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