The Shimmering Image

I’ve taken two writing courses in my life. One class—Creative Nonfiction, I enrolled in it as I first embarked on my writing hobby—was phenomenal. Useful, educational, fun. I walked away with a two-thousand-word essay that makes me proud to this very day. The second class, taken on the heels of the first, gave me nothing. I paid more, I learned nothing, I produced nothing, I didn’t have any fun. Let’s talk about the first class.

This was twenty years ago. What can you really remember about a ten-session adult-ed class after two decades. I remember a couple of the people. They guy who came to every class dressed as if he was heading out for a forty-mile bike ride. Head-to-toe spandex, clip-in cycle shoes, long, lean muscles and feathered seventies hair. I remember a guy, short, compact, intense, like an aged-out high-school wrestler, obsessed with H.G. Wells. Every time he raised his hand, we learned a little bit more about Wells’ essays.

But what I really remember is the Shimmering Image. I must have heard this phrase twenty times over the five-week term. The instructor, an engaging, easygoing, middle-aged, English professor type, seemed to have one goal for his class. He wanted us to write descriptively. He wanted our readers to feel as though they could reach into our writing and snatch an object out of our prose. If it was a noun, he wanted it to be real.

Every writer I’ve corresponded with has touted the importance of “show, don’t tell.” Construct your paragraphs to paint a picture. If your reader can’t see it, you’ve failed. I need these reminders on a regular basis. It’s so much easier to tell, and it’s so much duller to read.

10 thoughts on “The Shimmering Image

  1. It’s perhaps one of the most important lessons you can learn as a writer.
    It’s a shame that second course didn’t give you as much as the first, but it sounds like one out of two was a success at least, and it’s amazing to be able to say that you have a piece from then that you still feel proud of. I struggle not to cringe at most of the stuff I wrote last month, never mind last year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Show – don’t tell … somethings you have to tell because they’re not the important bits of story [don’t show a walk-on character with backstory – he’s not going to stay, nor is he going to have impact other than mirror/reflect/demonstrate something about the main character]; mostly you ‘show’ the emotions, the change as the character moves and grows through his journey. Don’t tell us what he learns, show us this, let us feel it as he feels it, let us learn it too.
    To learn more: try Larry Brooks, Story Engineering, for an idea on how to go beyond the things we failed to learn [in our higher educational facilities] about story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. William Carlos Williams told us there’s “no truth but in things.” That’s just another way of saying “show rather than tell,” which is the most common mistake of beginning poets (including me).

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s