Archive for November, 2013

Show v. Tell – Be Specific

 Fiction writers continually strive to make their words more powerful by studying creative writing books and articles, enrolling in college or on-line courses, reading articles on the Internet, seeking suggestions from other authors, or reading other published authors.

In my more than 20 years of writing, much of which has been allocated to seeking such advice, one piece of advice I’ve seen many times is to Show v. Tell. In my opinion, this should be at or near the top of every fiction writer’s revision checklist.

For example, rather than tell the reader, “Larry was angry,” show his anger in this manner, “Larry’s face turned bright red as he bared his teeth and slammed the door.”

One way to show v. tell is to be specific. This technique not only “admits” the reader entry into the story setting but is a simple and non-evasive method to make the characters come alive.

Creative writing suggestions are best illustrated by examples and are themselves a “show v. tell” approach. Below are a few examples.

Tell: After Frank finished his chores, he got into his car and went shopping.

Show: After Frank mowed and edged the yard, he jumped into his 2010 blue Ford 150 and drove to the local mall to shop for new clothes at Macy’s.

In the “tell” example, the reader doesn’t know what chores Frank finished, what make and model of car he drives, or where he shops.

In the “show” example, the reader can (hopefully) picture the trimmed yard, his truck, which characterizes Frank as to what vehicle he likes to drive, can picture a mall setting and a Macy’s department store, which reveals Frank’s spending habits and taste in clothing, even the fact he might prefer shopping at a mall v. a strip center.

Tell: After the death of his parents, William left home and went off to college.

Show: One month following the tragic death of his parents in a violent car accident, William left Tulsa to attend the University of Southern California.

In the “tell” example, the reader doesn’t know how William’s parents died, where he left from and where he went, or which college he attended.

In the “show” example, the reader knows how William’s parents died, where he lived and what college he planned to attend.

Tell: John prepared a bowl of cereal and sat down at the kitchen table, reading the paper as he ate.

Show: John prepared a healthy-sized bowl of Raisin Bran and sat down at the kitchen table, reading the sports section of the Chicago Tribune as he ate. It was the cereal of choice growing up in Chicago. He still remembered his late mother’s words, “Johnny, eat a bowl of Raisin Bran every day. It will keep you regular.”

In the “tell” example, the reader doesn’t know what John is eating or why, or what he is reading.

In the “show” example, the reader can see the box of Raisin Bran, knows John is interested in sports, lives in Chicago (or has ties to Chicago), and lets the writer expound on John’s background and the fact he listened to his mother.

Specificity can be applied to anything and everything the writer wants – think people (characters), places and location (setting), and things (objects). Most fiction writers have some form of a character profile or can find tons of examples on the Internet. My character profile in in Excel format and contains over 100 columns of information, from grade school to career, friendships, what they like to eat, how they talk, how they walk . . . you get the picture.

The next time you fill out your character profile, be at least aware of the specificity you can apply and include in the setting and locations of your story. It is guaranteed to improve the quality of your writing.

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NFL Commentators

Posted: November 6, 2013 in Uncategorized
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NFL Commentator: The Easiest Job in the World

Stand-up comedian Lewis Black has a bit where he asks, “What is the easiest job in the world?” He replies, “The weatherman in San Diego, who is on for about ten seconds, boasts a six-figure income, and predicts the weather as “nice.””

My sister lives in San Diego and attests the weather is not always “seventy-five and sunny,” but Mr. Black makes a valid point. After all, he is a comedian.

As a fan of NFL football that spends more time than I should sitting in front of the TV on Sundays and sometime Thursday nights, I must disagree with Mr. Black.

I am convinced the easiest job in the world is a commentator for the National Football League, although from my experience, most sports commentators qualify. In the interest of time and space, I’ll comment on the NFL.

The requirement is simply this: a voice, commanding if possible, but anyone able to speak will suffice.

I watch and listen to the games week after week and it’s always the same, regardless of commentator or network. They all second-guess the play-calling, praise the coach and team when a play works, make suggestions or even chastise the coach and players when the play does not work as designed or expected.

I never heard a commentator say ‘bad call,’ when a play works, nor ever heard ‘good call’ when a play fails or results in a turnover. I suppose there is a feeling of satisfaction because they can never possibly be wrong in their assessment.

I envy them. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could make life decisions after knowing the result?

I can’t help but wonder if these commentators ever playback the game and listen to themselves. As communication and media professionals, shouldn’t they try to improve? Don’t their bosses notice they, in my opinion, add no value?

The examples are too numerous to mention but here are a few.

Situation : 3rd down and 1 yard to go
Play call : Run around end or pass downfield
Result : No gain or incomplete pass
Comment : “Bad call, the linebackers are too quick, run up the middle, keep it simple, he should not have thrown that pass.”
Same situation, result is a run up the middle for no gain
Comment : “Bad call, the defense is looking for that, you must be creative in these situations, do something unexpected – throw the ball downfield.”

Situation : Quarterback throws to receiver who is double-covered
Result : Completed pass
Comment : “That receiver was surrounded by defenders and he threaded the needle. Great throw!”
Same situation, result – pass is intercepted
Comment: “That was a bad decision. You can’t force the ball into double coverage. Throw it away or tuck it in and run.”

Earlier this year, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, rather than sliding to the turf, lowered his shoulder into a defender to get extra yardage. The commentator praised Cutler’s drive to take on the tackler and get as much yardage as possible. Yet, there have been a number of times when quarterbacks were injured because of similar “ill-advised” actions, and of course the commentary is not about courage and drive, but of a bad decision. Once again, criticizing after the fact. Hindsight – always 20/20.

Commentators applaud ball carriers that keep fighting for extra yardage after initial contact, yet if their drive results in a fumble or an injury, the comment is, “you have to know when to go down.” Sure, if said ball carrier knew he would fumble or get hurt, I suspect he would go down.

One particular commentator who I don’t hear too much anymore (thank God for that), will emphatically say – almost shout, “I don’t like the call!” when a play does not work, almost as if he expects the audience to sit up and ask, “really, why not? Give us your professional insight, because we are thirsting for the knowledge of your expertise.” Oddly enough, has never commented negatively on a play that worked.

I find it a little hard to believe, and frankly a little sad, but NFL commentators apparently don’t understand they are not commenting on the call or the decision, but the result. The decision to call a play is done before the result guys, so to comment on the call, you would need to be in the huddle. Of course, you run the risk of being wrong, so I guess it’s best for you to stay in the booth and watch what happens before you assess the play. And, contrary to what you might think, coaches don’t call plays they know won’t work.

You might ask, what should they say during the game, and that’s a fair question. I recommend finding and studying tapes of the late Hank Stram and John Madden. Stram was a great analyst and actually analyzed v. judged, and although John Madden took 150 words to say what he could in 10 words, to my recollection he rarely second-guessed play calling.

One more thing, could someone please tell me which team Bill Cowher coaches?

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