I love fragments. So much! Fragments audition for my blog. They stand, waiting patiently on the side of the desk. Hopeful. Frisky. Nonchalant. Nervous. Indifferent. I see them there, primping, straightening out their letters, standing all alone, moving away when another word tries to be polite and make small talk. Sometimes I just abandon them, tell them I don’t need them, but they grin because they know I’m lying. They know.
Surprise! One will show up.Here is another rule: Show, don’t tell. My very disheveled 9th grade English teacher would run around the classroom, tapping an imaginary ruler in her hand, then she would cry out, “Show, don’t tell!” I had no idea what she was talking about. I didn’t want to look stupid though, by asking the question that the other 99% of the students already knew the answer to, so I would just nod-nod-nod. Of course, of course, Mrs. Bowles (with your unflattering bowl cut hairstyle), of course! Show, don’t tell! I get it!
I didn’t really get it. Not then.Twenty years later, I had my Oprah Winfrey lightbulb moment when I was explaining to my younger cousin my definition of good writing.
“Elyse, you should say, ‘I forgot my coat and it began to snow,’ not ‘I am cold.’ You write, ‘The neighbors had a party and blared heavy metal through the paper-thin walls until 3 AM, and of course I had to be up at 6 for work. No pot of coffee is large enough for me today,’ not ‘I’m tired.’ You write the situation without spelling it out for the reader, you let them make the connections, do the translations, for themselves.”
Wait—this was what Mrs. Bowles must’ve meant! Egads!Now I felt like Christopher Columbus when he discovered President Lincoln lied about being shot.
Huh?Yeah, there’s another one of my rules: don’t do the expected thing. Avoid clichés. Don’t say, “Raining cats and dogs” (unless you are a cartoonist and you’re going to provide the visual—then by all means!). Don’t type “It was pouring outside.” Find a new, creative way to say it. How about, “The sky growled, it seemed the black clouds were angry at me personally, and then they released their violent gray pellets of water directed maliciously at my pristine new silk dress. Yes, the one with the rainbow ribbon at the hem. The irony was not lost on me.”
How much more interesting than the pedestrian “cats and dogs.” The reader has read cats and dogs a million gazillion eleventy billion times,
And people don’t like to read more than 500 words. So stop there.MOV