Show - Don't Tell

Posted by Backyard Urban Gardening on Monday, August 10, 2009

I think I naturally gravitate toward telling instead of showing, but I don't think that's how it's supposed to work. Here's a passage I've been working on that ended up "telling" too much.

Since returning from Iraq, U.S. Army Captain Riley Burke struggled to sleep through the night. He’d been diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome and could no longer pursue an Army career. At first, Riley excelled in his position as a company commander with the 101st Airborne Division. He even enjoyed it. But, after they deployed to Iraq, the day-to-day drain wore him down. He’d lost soldiers to car bombs, lost friends to roadside bombs, and almost lost his own life to an improvised explosive device while supervising a clean-up operation in Baghdad.

I re-wrote it in an attempt to "show":

U.S. Army Captain Riley Burke spent most nights in Iraq tossing and turning - struggling to sleep through an hour never mind an entire night. Days of desert heat and nights filled with sounds of distant gunfire wore him down. There was plenty of blood and guts, but little glory. The Army recruiters failed to tell you that part. He’d lost soldiers to car bombs, lost friends to roadside bombs, and almost lost his own life to an improvised explosive device while supervising a clean-up operation in Baghdad.

So many nights in the desert he'd dreamed of returning to Tennessee to be with his family. Back home for six months, Riley wasn't resting well in his sister's home. The reality of it all - the nightmares - still plagued him. In the years he'd been away from Beech Grove, the town had changed and he'd changed too.

Do you think I succeeded?


Inez said...

I think you did quite a good job! I assume that "he'd changed, too" will be qualified in further text?

I also have a tendency to tell more than show. It does take a lot of effort to do the exact opposite. There's another tenet: "the sound must seem an echo to the sense." That one's a bit easier to do, haha.

Breeze said...

I would show this way.

As they always had in Iraq, the grey woolen blankets were twisted and tied around his legs when he awoke in the unfamiliar surroundings. He was disorientated for a moment and then he remembered. His sister's house. It was strange yet somehow comforting to awaken here in this sunlit room, the only remnants of his experiences in Baghdad were the vague memories that haunted his dreams. The cruel bloodstained roads that bore the splattered remains of comrades he'd lost to carbombs, roadside bombs, all manner of explosives designed to kill a man, had haunted his dreams last night as they always did.
The guilt of survival from his own close calls flickered across his face for a moment, quickly replaced by a softening. It was ok. And the memories drifted back inside his head again to wait until the next night to reappear. He was safely back in Beech Grove, after years of absence,comforted by the knowledge that, while the town had changed, just as he had certainly changed, he was home.

Ok that was off the cuff and I probably missed some stuff you wanted to say....

So don't say "he was restless" show evidence of it "twisted blankets" Don't tell about the dreams, incorporate them into your description of the scene.


Backyard Urban Gardening said...

I appreciate you both for taking the time to comment on my re-write effort. If it was easy, I'd certainly have a book published by now. (ha, ha)

I wish I had more time to write, but I'm thankful for my "day job".

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