A friend of mine asked me to proofread a short story for her for a Creative Writing class she’s taking. I told her I would love to, because I wanted to know what she had written about, but I warned her I am by no means an expert. I base my opinions on, one, what my teachers have taught me in the past and, two, what I think should be in a story because I read a lot of books and know what a story has and doesn’t have.
Her story was good. It could potentially be a good start to a novel. Maybe I will borrow the idea from her and… Okay, I’m getting carried away here – I’m still working on my whiskey novel after all. Anyway, I advised her the best way I could by telling her to sit on it for a day, if it wasn’t due immediately, and then go over it with a fine tooth comb and ask herself if her character is merely telling me what is going on around her, or showing me the chaos?
One of the scenes in her story has her character restrained to a hospital bed, and she describes waking up and seeing the restraints. This is a great piece of information for a first draft when you are trying to get the information down and bones of the story built. Now those bones need some meat! I asked her to tell me more about the restraints. Did her character feel them? Were they metal, leather, or something else? How tight were they? Did they hurt her skin and/or wrists when she pulled against them? Did they invoke anger, panic, or frustration? Or did her character give up and submit? I want the bloody meat, damn it!!!
I told my friend this is one of my most common mistake as well. I want to get the image out there, but I need to elaborate on the image more. I have little reminders all over the place in my notes, and I should probably tattoo it on my hand as well as a reminder to show, not tell. I can tell you until I’m blue in the face about the thoughts that go on in my head, but wouldn’t you rather me show you the naked and vulnerable truth about the thoughts that appear out of no where from a poof of gray smoke and fade into a mist that settles around the feet of my characters as they sit at a little bistro table sipping hot coffee, with derisive sneers on their faces, scoffing because they’ve decided that whatever I had in store for them in my novel isn’t what they want out of their lives after all.