Word choice is huge when it comes to writing. In one of the Reluctant Hook’er’s posts, she did her best to convince us that even the first word is important. Some may agree, and others won’t. I know someone who would agree—pre-Katie Holmes era.
At a recent writer’s convention, the Reluctant Hook’er and I wandered from class to class in our best Hook’er shoes and listened to published writer’s on various topics. One of the things that stuck out the most, besides one ladies’ Richard Simmon’s Style Hot Pink Sparkly mess of a hat, was making sure writing is show not tell.
So what was it about Tom Cruise’s “you had me at hello”? I know it was a movie but one of the most important things to do with your words is to make us forget we are reading, make us see it—like a movie.
Right before this scene, the show-me-the-money guy made his career with a great catch and a little dance. As cameras surrounded him, he took a call from his wife. We had already seen the couple’s relationship contrasted throughout the movie. Cuba and his wife loved each other. They kissed, pawed at each other, and fought with passion, all the while, Jerry and Bridget Jones exchanged awkward glances and feigned affection.
Jerry Maguire watched his client break down as he spoke to his wife. Jer had seen the love and devotion before. Only this time, he knew what he needed to do. We knew it too. It was a look. It was in his actions. The moment would not have been the same if he said, “I finally realize what I need to do. I need to go to go tell my wife she completes me.”
I know that sounds ridiculous and something you would never do in your writing, but I see it so many times. It’s called R.U.E. and if you’ve read my blog before you’ve probably seen it pop up. Resist The Urge To Explain in your writing. Don’t sell your reader short. We aren’t totally stupid. We get things. We can read between the lines.
Show us the need Jerry has for his wife, make us believe it, before the scene above even happens. We need the experience. We need to forget we’re reading a book. We need to root him on, still wondering if he’ll do what’s right.
So, let’s test your knowledge. Which of the following sentences is telling and which are showing?
1. 1. “I like your hat,” she said sarcastically.
2. 2. My mind stirred with trepidation.
3. 3. I saw the look in his eyes and I knew he wanted me.
4. 4. The jagged pieces of broken glass reminded me of my father, unapproachable and dangerous.
5. 5. The crisp evening bit at my cheeks, freezing my tears, it was then I knew I’d always be alone.
Show me your skills if you want. Rewrite any of the sentences you think are telling. Show me the money.