Tuesday, July 5, 2011

National Writing Project Day 5: Show, Don't Tell

As part of a teacher demo today by Sarah (PAWLP) we had an opportunity to work from some writing samples already in our daybook.

The first challenge was to write directions for a photographer who was going to recreate or film the experience.

I treated it like I was writing for a film and ended up using the idea of a wide angle shot of a camera, scrolling in to the opening of my narrative:

Wide angle shot of a suburban neighborhood from above.  We move in slowly as might towards one house in particular.  A white van sits in its driveway and a very tall man is walking to it from the porch.  Details of man and van are vague at best.

The morning shy over the house remains violet from the waning night.  The horizon--a thickening line of pale lavenders.

The ground is wet from a recent summer shower.

We zoom in slowly on the van from the side and to the rear, we see more of the house beyond it--two rocking chairs on a porch, colorful annuals in outs, and one light one downstairs towards the back of the house.

We swing along the side of the van and enter the passenger side window, rolled down, and enter.  We see Norman.  Tall and over-sized for the front seat, Norman stares at his cellphone in his open palm.

Phase two of our demo was to breathe some life into a character.  I chose to stay with Norman as I may be developing it for my rough draft for the week.  We had to write comparisons, showing what they do not embody.

Sarah used Sonnet 130 (Shakespeare) as a model for us: "My mistresses eyes are nothing like the sun..."

This proved difficult for me.  It forced me to look at my character in an entirely new light.  I had to see a new detail which I may have ignored or maybe just didn't see:

Norman is ten pounds of cotton in a two pound bag--his wrist and shin and chest hair burst around and over and through the fabric like plumes of insects silently stalking prey.

What worked here for me as teacher and writer was not worrying about defining showing versus telling.  We were invited to work with our own authentic pieces of writing to begin to breathe life into it.

We did other exercises and discussed the ideas behind showing versus telling, but I have to throw it out there that I appreciate learning from colleagues when we are permitted to play around with the work, experiment, heck even fail at it--but it sure beats being lectured at and simply just told x, y, and z should be done because Dr. Fancydegree wrote about it in a book.

Teachers need to put their hands on the task and need to do it themselves to be able to understand it and then be able to teach it.

I'm appreciating the spirit behind our instruction in the PAWLP workshop--write alongside of your students.  See yourself as a writer...be a writer...and bring that into your classroom.

Start teaching the writer and not the writing.


  1. Thanks for the great reflections and your message of teaching the writer.
    Western Mass WP

  2. Dr. Fancydegree loves his x, y, and z. hehehe.

    Good prose, Brian. Love the plume-y hair imagery. Love your writing.