Don’t Tell Me; Show Me!. The Use of Detail.
The Use of Detail
Readers are a crochety lot. They don’t like to read long-winded passages of description, and they don’t want photographs slapped all over every page of everything they read, but they do want to “SEE” what a writer means. In other words, they want pictures, but they want those pictures of flash on almost as fast as action shown on film. They want pictures that do not call attention to themselves but are simply and suddenly THERE, whammo, straight on, and preferably in motion.
Exercise I: Rewrite each of the following sentences below with one or more verbs that increase the visibility and/or the sound of the motion suggested. Do NOT add any adjectives or adverbs!
Animating the Inanimate: In the preceding examples, the subject of each sentence was actually capable of movement in real life. The really tricky stuff with Motion Picture Verbs begins when you use subjects that can’t reasonably be expected to move at all.
Exercise II. All of the following sentences tend to be ineffectual because of their verbs. Fit them up with appropriate new Motion-Picture or Sound-Track verbs, changing the wording as necessary to get the effect you want without changing the essential meaning.
Exercise III. Rewrite the following with specific details that show rather than tell what they mean. You may also use Motion-Picture and Sound-Track Verbs if they make your picture stronger. You ARE the camera; show us a picture.
Never underestimate the power of a picture, particularly a picture of something real! Hang on to that word REAL. Few things are more boring than the kind of fanciful effects attempted in certain types of movies: blurred landscapes, misty figures that keep melting into the woodwork, long sequences full of half-glimpsed monsters, blobs that creep under doors, floors that dissolve, unexplained screams in the attic , and all manner of things that go Bump in the night.
Pictures do this on film. You can do this on paper. NEVER waste your time on the sillinessof made-up freakishness in your writing. Let actuality show itself as it is, with absolute accuracy (rest assured that such accuracy can be quite freaky enough to suit any taste.) But the thing that gives readers the most pleasure is the sense of reality that pictures can give to writing.