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If you know Anton Chekhov (and if you don’t, do read his work—he was a perfect satiric), you must have heard the expression that is usually ascribed to him: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
This is today’s tip for instant writing improvement. Showing instead of explaining is a powerful strategy, which pursues three main objectives:
- clarification of your writing
- integration of a strong emotional component of your writing
- making your writing vivid and credible
Returning to Chekhov’s quote: I know the moon is shining—everybody knows, you don’t need to dedicate a whole sentence to this fact. But it may glitter in an old pond, or it’s light can look like silver cobwebs—and this is what you should pay attention to.
Description puts not words but images into the heads of readers. I like this expression: “to put an image in one’s head.” This is exactly what you should do. It’s easier than it seems. Just imagine Santa Claus riding a fat zebra across the street. Our brains work this way: if you know how something looks like or feels like, you imagine it. This works best of all for objects that are meaningful to us, and worst of all for something we are not familiar with.
Many writers, however, use too many words that show nothing. They write like, “This winter morning was especially beautiful on that day,” or “She looked gorgeous,” or something like that. You know, women in some African tribes implant clay disks in their lower lips to look beautiful. And it works! I bet men in those tribes are like: “Gosh, our women are just gorgeous, thank the Lord for this.” As you can see, meanings can be vague and relative, and they say almost nothing. So, follow the advice by Anton Chekhov, and may your writing be vivid.
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