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“Show, Don’t Tell” and Vice Versa

Published February 17, 2013 by Elsa Pla

Writer's Hand

On my last post I mentioned that I would be working on “showing, not telling” in my poetry.

I have a tendency to write poems that are too “on the nose,” as my writer daughter describes them. In other words, I am often guilty of being too obvious in telling the reader information they could instead infer. I’m trying to become more aware of this tendency, and I’m also trying to figure out when “telling, not showing” actually works.

So here’s an example of a revised poem without the “telling”:

DOMINOES

I wait as the dominoes fall one by one,

listening to the sound of inevitability

as one domino strikes and fells the next one,

cause and effect,

potential to kinetic,

and so on;

until all dominoes are down,

fallen like soldiers on a battlefield,

all energy spent.

Then – because there’s still time –

I stand them up, position them again,

this time making sure they follow

a different path.

(by Elsa Pla © 2013)

And here’s the original version:

Dominoes

The ignorant choices we make early on,

if we are granted such a privilege

(for most have ignorant choices thrust upon them),

result in the start of a chain of events

known as the Domino Effect,

and we are surprised to be left with no more choices

and no other option

(if we are responsible and brave)

but to wait,

to weather out the storm

as best we can,

watching as the dominoes fall one by one,

listening to the sound of inevitability

as one domino strikes and fells the next one,

cause and effect,

potential to kinetic,

and so on,

until all dominoes are down,

fallen like soldiers on a battlefield,

all energy spent.

Then – if we’re lucky –

if there’s still time left to make

one final, less-ignorant choice,

we’ll lift them up, position them again,

this time making sure they follow

a different path.

(by Elsa Pla © 2013)

So, less words; more meaning, right? (I’ll save the unnecessary “telling” portions for a different piece.)

Now here’s a poem where I think the “telling” works (my daughter agrees):

SEA OF TRANQUILITY

My heart belongs to salty, blue mornings

By shore and shallows,

To places where living water and parched sand

Kiss and make love,

Where life is gentle and kind

And the water is cool and clear

And the whole world glistens.

Where time slows down to allow

The lazy rhythm of the tides,

Where foamy, aqueous fingers

Stroke and comfort the land,

And all hurts are forgiven.

A place too beautiful, too light, too blue

For violence of any kind,

Where the sea is a safe haven and a healing balm,

Where dreams spawn and multiply,

And peace and tranquility reign.

(by Elsa Pla © 2013)

What I’ve learned from this revision process:

We need to know, understand, and internalize the rules in order to break them.

To close, here’s a great blog post on “show, don’t tell” and vice versa.

http://writerunboxed.com/2012/03/05/flip-the-script-tell-dont-show/