Writing Around It

When a sculptor creates a marble statue, he spends his energy on the part of the marble that isn’t the statue he wants: removing those parts, chip by chip. What’s left is the statue. When an artist creates a charcoal portrait, he focuses on the shadows and the light, on the shape that forms between or within his actual pencil strokes. As writers, we’re told “Show, don’t tell” and it comes out to the same process.

If you have something you want to show happening in your story, focus on the things that surround it and give it shape. Instead of telling the reader that your character was hurt by his girlfriend leaving him, show him sitting in his apartment with his head in his hands. Show the silence of the room. The way the cat meows for food in the kitchen and is forgotten. The little drift of fading petals from the roses she didn’t even take with her.

Bright, standout things are sometimes best shown by the shadows all around them.


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