Alas we have come to the final in our five-part series on tips from the masters, where we look at specific aspects of writing through the words from some of history’s truly greatest masters in Literature.
So far we’ve looked at the overuse of adverbs, courtesy of Jack Kerouac, why the first draft of anything is shit – thanks toHemingway, why swear words are awesome – courtesy of Mark Twain and visualization on your writing – thanks to Alice Munro
Now we turn our faces to short-story great (and whoremonger) Anton Chekhov. (Seriously, this dude LOVED brothels and is quoted as saying about marriage “.. give me a wife who, like the moon, won’t appear in my sky every day.”0
Charming…but I digress.
What we consider here is the following quote:
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
What a stunning quote.
As a writer, I struggle with this often – finding the perfect phrase to show the reader what’s encompassed in my mind’s eye without being overwhelmingly obvious about it – or worse – being lazy about it and not doing it justice.
To me this quote evokes vivid imagery, the pallid glow of the moon quietly settling on the earth (and possibly onto a symbolic piece of the story).
The danger is also then to describe this scene in all its raw beauty for nothing other than beauty’s sake. If the moon glints off the broken glass, but the broken glass is not integral or in anyway related to the plot of the story, is it really necessary?
I am constantly reminding myself to show these scenes but I honestly struggle, at times, with a ability to rip that little scene-nugget out of my brain and place it in writing so that I am satisfied that it matches up with the original.
Moreover, I need to consider how well I am doing that job from the perspective of a reader. There may be times I want to show them exactly what I want them to see, but there are others, where I want to show – but also leave room for a readers own intellect and interpretation.
There will never be that perfect piece of show don’t tell advice out there. For me its trial and error – that and a LOT of reading aloud. If I can verbalize my work my ears will pick up the rhythm – and if the description feels forced far easier than my silent mind can.
What about you? How do you show your readers the glint of the light. As a reader, what irks you about descriptions that are too lengthy or vague?
Comment below and as always…keep reading!