Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Tired Baby Analogy

So, since my moment in the sun yesterday on Kristin Nelson's blog, (it's about the most exciting thing to happen around here in a long time! ... maybe I need to do something about that) I've been ruminating on showing vs. telling, especially in first pages.

And tonight at dinner, it was as if an analogy dropped from the sky, right into my lap, in the form of a screaming, kicking one-year-old.

She was flailing all available appendages, arching her back, screaming her tonsils out. I was trying to stuff noodles in my mouth with one hand and hold onto her with the other.

"Sophie!" I cried out in exasperation. "What do you want? What do you need? Do you want to get down?" I put her down. (Nope. She threw herself down and bonked her head on the slate.) "Okay, do you want to sit in my lap?" Picked her up again. (Nope. More back-arching. More screaming.) "Are you hungry?" I fed her a noodle. (Nope. Noodle spit on the floor.) "Are you thirsty?" Handed her the sippy cup. (Sippy cup went flying UFO-style across the kitchen.)

Okay. I was out of ideas.

"Can't you just say one word to tell me what you want?"

Sophie can say words, single words that indicate certain things. She can. But, in this case, she wouldn't.

She was doing all she could to show me she was unhappy, and that's not bad when you're a sixteen-month-old. A lot of times, showing is the only way to get a busy mom's attention. But in this case, I needed just a little telling. Just one word would have sufficed. Because I was out of ideas.

And there it was, the epiphany. Sophie needed to do what I need to do more of in my writing. There are many times when just a word will do. Or a sentence. Or a paragraph. I don't think it takes much to bring the reader up to speed. I'd taken previous advice ("Show! Don't tell!") to an extreme. I was all show, no tell whatsoever. But that was at the risk of confusing the reader -- leaving them in a new world without any bearings.

I'm going to try to blend the two a bit more now. I'll try it out in my next short story, work on it in my WIP and try to improve. And I'll always have the visual of Sophie trying to poke my eye out with a chopstick to remind me that it's okay to tell every once in awhile.


  1. love, love, love the analogy. brilliant, amy.

  2. There's definitely nothing wrong with telling if your showing is slowing the pace. Good luck with finding the balance.

  3. Thanks, Kim. :)

    Stina, that's it in a nutshell, isn't it? Great way to put it. I'll remember that.

  4. Amy, I`m dying to know what Sophie wanted!

  5. Jenn, I think she was just tired. She's been sick, so her regular naps aren't quite cutting it. I still don't know for sure, though! Even pointing at something would've helped. Sorry I don't have a definitive answer, which *shows* why it's so important to *tell*. *wink*