Friday, May 7, 2010

Showing vs. Telling: An Assignment

In church one Sunday morning a long time ago, someone quoted a pentecostal lady preacher he'd once heard:
"It ain't what's goin' on, honey. It's what's
really goin' on."

She was talking, of course, about the spiritual realities that have everything to do with the "reality" we see all around us. For me, those things have always been the most interesting part of any story. Think of the prodigal son's "good" brother who ended up on the outside of things, and taught us that there is more than one way to go wrong. Likewise, the "good" people who passed the wounded man on the road to maintain their ceremonial cleanliness, leaving it for the Samaritan to get his hands dirty and show us what it means to be right. On the surface: the dutiful son, the hated Samaritan. But they tell us the deepest truth by what they do.

Every day people tell us much more than they say in the way they move their bodies, the things they don't say, the things they repeat again and again and again. You've seen friends insist they're fine while their eyes fill with tears. You've done it yourself, and you've compulsively said "I don't care" when you only wished you didn't.

For this weekend I'm going to suggest an assignment for your inner investigative reporter. Why not have him or her tail along outside your body for a couple of days, then write down all the stuff you might write in a journal. The difference this time is that you won't say "I smiled but I wanted to punch his face." Instead you'll show this by all the indirect, sub-textual ways you communicate your anger. Or fear, or sadness, or love.

Then before Monday, perhaps you will stop in here at Novel Matters and share just a sentence or two from your assignment? We love to read what you have to say.


Wendy Paine Miller said...

Doing this assignment reminds me of Lamott's quote: “Your job is to see people as they really are, and to do this, you have to know who you are in the most compassionate possible sense.”

Will get on it.
~ Wendy

Roz Morris aka @Roz_Morris . Blog: Nail Your Novel said...

Great reminder. And it's always so interesting when we think we see through the cracks in a character's bravado.

Kathleen Popa said...

Wendy, what a great quote, and how true. Candy, yes - I always love it when I feel I can see through a character. The story gets so much more interesting.