I recently tweeted this:
"Good thing I told a little girl the title of the MS I'm revising. She didn't know what an Irish Setter is!....Makes mental note to be sure and describe the dog in enough detail so kids (the book's audience) can "see" that kind of dog in their minds."
My friend and fellow author, Jennifer Greenleaf, happened to be on Twitter at the time. She replied:
“Ah yes, the fine line between the show and tell issues writers regularly face. Glad you're staying aware!!!”
After I read that, I was glad she noticed that my dilemma was a whole “show, don’t tell” type of thing. Writers are told “show, don’t tell” even though there are times when it is perfectly fine to tell instead of show. (We don’t really need to go through the motions of a character making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, do we? Unless he is pausing after each stroke of the knife to tell somebody off or dancing a jig after applying first the peanut butter and then again after applying the jelly. Then that’s different!)
In my case, I merely “told” my readers that a dog was an Irish Setter. I did not “show” it was an Irish Setter.
Actually, this is what I wrote:
“He sat up in bed and turned to look in the direction the whining came from. He took one look at what sat there and blinked, turning all the way around in his bed to get a better view of what he saw. There on his floor, sitting quite still, was an Irish Setter.”
I made the mistake of assuming that, since the Irish Setter is a popular breed of dog, anybody reading that (including a child, who is the audience this book is written for) would be able to perfectly picture an Irish Setter down to the last detail.
One thing a writer should never do is NEVER ASSUME.
I was reminded of this rule when I had shared that information with a 7-year-old girl who was visiting with my daughter one day. She was told the story’s title and I noticed the look of confusion on her face. I asked her if she knew what an Irish Setter was and she said no. Of course, I was surprised. It’s not like she lived in Africa and never saw this breed of dog, or something. But, the truth was that she didn’t know what an Irish Setter looks like. And that was a big wake-up call for me.
Not everyone knows what an Irish Setter looks like. Especially a child raised in Africa!
So why not describe it? Describe what this type of dog looks like in enough detail so that a child who has never seen such a dog before would be able to “see” it in their mind.
So I changed what I wrote to this:
"Jesse sat up in bed and turned to look in the direction the whining came from. He took one look at what he saw then blinked in surprise, turning all the way around in his bed to get a better look at it. The dog had red fur, with some of the fur fluffing out on his chest in a “V” shape. It also had an oval head, black nose and dark eyes. It look just like the pictures of an Irish Setter he’d seen in books at the library. The dog appeared to be young, but not a puppy, and it sat there on his floor with its tongue hanging out of its mouth."
Well, it’s not perfect, but I think it’s better. I actually studied several pictures of Irish Setters in order to work on describing it accurately, and even found one of an Irish Setter that looked exactly like the dog as I “saw” it in my own mind.
Still, I’m not done with that just yet. I’m planning to run that description by some of my daughter’s friends and see how they respond to it. If it “works” and helps them to get a good idea of what the dog looks like. And if not, then I’ll tweak it some more until I get it right.
I am just glad I even ran that by the little girl in the first place. It has reminded me to be a bit more detailed when it comes to something that may not be so popular after all. And that running things by potential readers is actually a good thing!
Labels: animals, writing, writing books