Don't tell me the moon is shining...
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Anton Chekov talking about the use of a well know literary device called ‘Show, don’t tell’ and more recently ‘Show, not tell.’
This method which has many proponents in the world of literature is not a new phenomenon. Ernest Hemingway opens his novel ‘To have and have not’ written in 1937 with the following lines:
You know how it is there early in the morning in Havana with the bums still asleep against the walls of the buildings; before even the ice wagons come by with ice for the bars?
Here Hemingway is painting a picture of early morning in Cuba, he could have easily written ‘One very early morning…’ some writers may argue that these examples are still ‘telling’ although somewhat elaborately. Calling it ‘Show, not tell though does simplify it for our students and is a great way of getting them to use vivid description.
Evan Marshall from http://themarshallplan.net/ says:
Don’t just write “The subway station was shabby.”
Write: “Near the edge of the platform, a man with knotted hair held out a Dixie cup to no one in particular, calling, ‘Spare some change? Spare some change?’ Swirls of iridescent orange graffiti covered the Canal Street sign. The whole place smelled of urine and potato chips.”
Perhaps both are telling but one is telling in much more detail. The latter has much more detail and drama.
I use film widely in my teaching and I use film to demonstrate this technique.
The following two extracts are from a music video called 'Titanium' by David Guetta.
These two excerpts are from one of my favourite films on The Literacy Shed, called 'Catch a Lot.'
There are many other examples in the films on www.literacyshed.com and I may follow this blog up with them if people think it is useful.
Thanks for reading and I hope you leave a comment.
9/4/2015 01:26:20 am
Absolutely. Don't list the characters traits, let me find out about them. Rob was lazy and bored. OR As they approached the gate, Rob was trailing behind. Was just working on this skill with P5 before the holidays.
9/4/2015 09:33:40 am
Rob was lazy and bored :o
13/4/2015 02:27:40 pm
Totally agree with this. Thanks!
26/6/2015 12:20:01 pm
Hi Rob--I enjoyed your post and wondered where you found the photograph of the moon through broken glass. I am also wondering whether I would be able to use it in an online course assignment advertising a writing club at the school where I teach. Thanks.
20/8/2015 12:47:22 am
This is great - had started this idea last year, but I really like this approach - shall give it a go soon! Thank you
24/8/2015 06:32:57 am
Great examples to illustrate this point.
29/8/2015 03:36:23 am
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