Thursday, November 15, 2012

Show It: A Writing Exercise For You

John here. As a continuation of my last week's post regarding adding detail to one's story, I would like to stress that motif again this week in the way of a writing exercise. 

“Show it”: An exercise in Character Development

Emotions—love, hate, fear, loss, guilt, or grief.

Select one emotion from the list above and write a paragraph or brief scene in which a character demonstrates the emotion. You may not use the word at all in the scene, either in narration or dialogue. Remember: Readers like to play a part in the scene. Let them SEE characters come to life through what characters say and do—whether it’s body language, dialogue, or overt action.

Note the difference between…
Tommy would never forgive himself for what he’d done that night, years earlier. His mother’s boyfriend, Jeff, had been hitting her, and when she screamed, he woke up and committed the crime. He hadn’t done it to kill Jeff as much as he’d done it to protect his mother.
Now, he paced in his cell, following the conviction, and felt guilty. He’d killed a man, and, as a Christian, that weighed on him endlessly. 


Tommy stared at the Bible. It lay on the narrow bunk of the place he now called home like an endless reminder. He read it dutifully, the pages thin and crisp in his fingers, the way the blade had felt cool against his palm before his life had changed years ago; before his mother’s scream had woken him from the soft dreamscape typical of any six-year-old to the harsh reality of being her protector.
He moved away from the bunk, to the window lined with iron bars and wire-meshed glass. The word protector had so many different meanings, he thought.

The second paragraph offers the reader the opportunity to play a part in the story. The character's emotions are on display but only when the reader links them to the images in the passage (i.e. "his mother's scream," "the blade had felt cool," "the pages thin and crisp"). It all goes back to showing, not telling. Try this exercise. If you do, I'd love to see a copy:

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