Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Show, Don't Tell

Every novelist is told "show, don't tell."  In the book I mentioned in a previous post,  Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, "Show and Tell" is chapter one.  It's that important.  So in the spirit of Show and Tell, I'm offering up two versions of one of the opening paragraphs of my book.  Vote for version A or version B.

A:  "This is how it happened.  We were at home -- mama was down by the water hole and papa was hunting.  Our brothers were in the fields, and we alone were keeping watch over the house.  We had just finished playing a game, with stones arrayed in dug-out holes on the ground, and I had won.  So I was happy, and teasing Ledu.  As I laughed at my brother for being so absentminded as to lose to me, a man and woman we didn't know appeared.  The woman approached us, and I was tempted to run back into the house, but another man was behind us.  Before we could speak or cry out, or even recognize the intruders, the man grabbed us from behind and the woman stopped up our mouths and tied our hands."

B:  "Ledu, let's play Ayo" I said.  We were alone in the compound, as mama was down by the water hole and papa was hunting. 
   "Olu, you know I'll beat you.  You must enjoy losing!" Ledu said.
    "No way.  I don't think of it as losing, but as learning how to win."
    Ledu found the small stones we used for the game, and distributed them evenly in the dug-out holes on the ground.  A nearby goat bleated loudly.
    "Don't you need to milk the goat Olu?" Ledu asked.
    "Not yet.  You're trying to distract me.  Let's play."  I squinted my eyes, concentrating on the game, and said "I'm first."
    "Fine sis.  Go first.  Won't make a difference."
     I went first and dropped my handful of stones in strategic holes.  Ledu went next, and I couldn't tell what his strategy was.  Three moves later, I was winning.
    "Well, it looks like I'm winning THIS time," I said.
    "A na-ekwu ekwu, a na-eme eme" Ledu said (talk the talk, walk the walk).
     "I'm talking," I said, moving the last of his stones over to my side, "and your stones are walking!"
     "You got lucky" Ledu said.  I smiled up at him, and then frowned.  Ledu looked at me, and then turned around to see what I was looking at.  We both stared up at two Africans, a man and a woman, we didn't know, had never seen before.  Before we could say anything, or cry out, the man grabbed us and the woman stopped up our mouths with an ugly orange cloth.


  1. The second paragraph is MUCH better!!!!!!!!!

  2. I don't know why, but I like the first one better...maybe because I read it first...or that it gets right to the point.

    Guess you'll have a lot of differing opinions on this one.

    Bonne chance,

  3. Christina Victor-BandyopadhyayAugust 16, 2012 at 10:16 PM

    Except for the "This is how it opened" beginning, I seem to like No 1 better.

    It was not an easy pick. I assumed that the details in No 2 are not relevant to the plot, which is why you offered option 1.

    I think unnecessary details can be a distraction, knowing how limited our attention span can be, but that is just me!

    Good Luck!