Friday, January 30, 2009

Arrested by the Details

On the Internet, no one can hear you shiver. Greetings from the rime-slathered Arctic region formerly known as central Ohio. I swear icicles are forming on hawks in mid-flight.

Fear not for the intrepid writers of ENG 109.02, for we are finding warmth and comfort in our words. We are embroiled in writing narrative essays, ways of constructing meaning about the experiences we have had. Our memories are burning bright on the page, with the brilliance of a thousand suns (or, at least, the functionality of a dependable space heater). And what gives our memories that roasting-by-the-fireside glow? Well, the heat of the devil's touch is, as they kind of say, in the details.

With parrot-like fanaticism, I stress the importance of "showing" the details of one's story rather than settling for simply relaying facts. The effect is striking--good "showing" brings the reader into the story with you. I've linked before to Professor Dennis G. Jerz's website that does a wonderful job explaining the difference between showing and telling.

We don't "show" every moment in our narratives; we couldn't. We choose to "tell" certain parts, backgrounding them, so that the moments of showing are that more vibrant and noticeable. Recently I've come to think of these selected moments of showing as short YouTube clips, where we are practically pressing the Play button in our computers to animate the story and bring the reader in.

In the following clip from the sadly-defunct Arrested Development, note how the video starts with a short sentence, a tell: "Job was being taken out to lunch." What follows--what we see, hear, and feel as a result of the action and dialogue--are a lot of details that shows what "Job was being taken out to lunch" entails.

When we go to write stories, we must be prepared to show the sights, the smells, the sounds, the feelings, the gestures, the dialogue, the comparisons that take a simple sentence into an overly dramatic reading of a menu. Remember: when in doubt of whether you are showing and telling, always check for club sauce.


Fitz said...

I've always wanted to be a good writer, I just don't think I can ever master it all. I do know that with each little thing I learn I can possibly become a better writer each and every day. I plan on watching some more Arrested Development.

Derek John Boczkowski said...


Evaluating whether you are a "good writer" or not is a highly subjective business. Sure, most of us will identify something as "good," but when we attempt to explain just what makes it good, we often have difficulty. This is due in part because "good writing" differs based on the context it is written in and the community it is written for. Surely we can agree that certain metal songs and corporate memos are "well-written," but if we were to put a throbbing bass line a speedy licks behind the memo, well . . .

And, do, DO watch more Arrested Development. You won't be disappointed.

ForwardThought said...

Indeed, "the devil is in the details." It took me some time to see some truths in that expression.

Wow, I can truly relate and appreciate Fitz's comment.

Is Arrested Development still on the air or just the re-runs?

Nice read, my friend

Derek John Boczkowski said...

AD has been off the air since 2006 (save for Reruns on the G4 network). There is rumor of a movie, however: