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.