In My first Creative Class my professor gave us an assignment the first time we met, and it was due by the next class. We had to write an account of what happens during a three minute period. That sounds simple enough, but no one was able to do it according to the instructions given.
We had to detail the actions with strong verb. It was an exercise in showing and not telling. Not knowing a thing of Creative Writing, all of us went wild and wrote the way we thought in our ignorance we should. It was a good lesson to see what showing really.
I wrote about a turtle crossing the road in the dessert. It was my homage to Steinbeck.
One of the rules for this assignment is no physical descriptions. We could not talk about how someone looked, about the terrain or the environment, anything. Of course, I wanted to describe the dessert. For this assignment, it was wrong.
Nothing bad about descriptions, but I do think some writers go overboard with them. Then again, I’ve been accused of not having enough. This assignment forces us to show action without descriptions, and that is plenty hard, but it makes for fine writing.
Three minutes of action means three minutes without talking. That rule is one reason I went with the turtle. But if you have people interacting, it’s hard to pull it off without having them talk. But according to the professor, it can be done, and for his assignment, it must be done.
The issue is that dialogue is not action, it’s only activity. Also, people not yet trained in writing probably handle dialogue the worst. Dialogue is for showing the character’s development and his interaction with others and nothing more. Inexperienced writers often push the plot by dialogue. This is always bad writing.
Many writers regardless of experience fall back on the safety net of internal monologue. The problem is that it is a safety net full of spikes. Thinking is telling, not showing. There is no action within internal monologue.
Don’t tell us what someone is thinking, show us by their actions. This is the real challenge in demonstrative story telling. I personally feel that internal monologues have a difficult place in storytelling. Someone like James Joyce can get away with it because of the psychological nature of his work. Also, he does plenty of showing.
So why did the turtle cross the road? I don’t know. But how did the turtle cross the road? Ah, this is a matter we can explore. Describe the scene with actions. You don’t have to use a turtle, but here is a challenge for all of the Creative Writers. Write about the actions that happen in a three minute period. Try to avoid descriptions, dialogue, and thinking. It’s harder than you think, but it enforces the great skill of showing in your writing.