Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Revelation

Every once and a while I have one of those epiphanies that stops me dead in my tracks no matter where I am or what I'm doing, and makes me turn to whomever is closest (even if it's just my dog) and say, "OH MY GOSH. DO YOU KNOW WHAT I JUST REALIZED???"

Usually this turns out badly for me. Not only because you can never tell what poor, innocent bystander will fall victim to this verbal assault, but also because my revelations tend to be a little, er, shall we say, behind the times.

For example: When I was in college (college, mind you) I realized that the phrase "Take it with a grain of salt" was not in fact, as I had so long assumed, "Take it with the grand assault." This one rocked my world for at least a week.

A few years before this, I was made to understand that the large quantities of fizz produced in the quick pouring of a glass of soda did not result in the irrevocable loss of said soda, but merely indicated some kind of chemical transformation best known by mathematicians and NASA employees. (I had long been indignant at the idea that Coca Cola would sell a product which, if it were not poured slowly enough, would vanish in vast amounts and leave the purchaser with less than half of what they paid for.)

I recently had another revelation, and I hope this one is less embarrassing. It goes like this:


If I were the sort of person who said OMG, I might say it now. For me, this is the best kind of epiphany. It takes something I've been hearing my whole life and links it with something I've been telling myself as long as I've been a writer. And the result is that both ideas are illuminated.

"Actions speak louder than words" is a phrase so overused by elementary school teachers that it draws eye-rolls from anyone over the age of fifteen any time someone so much as thinks it. But consider it in these terms: The reason we must SHOW our readers instead of TELLING them is that actions speak louder than words. Ha! Do you see it? New meaning altogether!

Writing a character's actions conveys your point so much better (so much LOUDER, you might say) than describing that character's feelings or mental progression, doesn't it? Ludwig's shoulders sagged and he dropped into the nearest armchair with a whimper is ever so much more effective than Ludwig was disappointed and tired and he didn't know what he was going to do, as we all know.

But holy mackerel! That's because actions speak louder than words! If I had really understood the depth of that phrase when my first grade teacher droned it to the class so many years ago, maybe I'd be a better writer today! (Are you sick of the exclamation points yet?)

Excuse me. I have to go gaze starry-eyed into space for a while. And then I have to go do some revising.



  1. "Take it with the grand assault"? I love it! Instead of bring skeptical, one can be proactive! An excellent example of a mondegreen.

    But yes, description of action and dialogue are far more effective at conveying mood, etc. than simple statements from the narrator.

  2. A grand assault... one of my favorites. At least you didn't let one during our CIV test... wait, was that you???

    Anyway, I think that you've had a great revelation. And I love that image. I'm excited to read your revisions based on this revelation :)

  3. I had a similar experience the other day when I found out that Guy Fawkes day celebrates the survival of James I, not the rebellious spirit of a man willing to stand up for what he believes in. I was shocked and somewhat disillusioned.

  4. I love epiphanies like that, except that they create SO much work for me when it's time to revise.

    Good luck on the ongoing revisions, I'm working away at notes for you.

  5. Chera: I was actually rather disappointed to learn that the phrase was about salt and tolerance rather than courage and perseverance. Oh well.

    Ash: Civ test?? Me?? I'm afraid I don't know WHAT you're talking about.

    Katie: That's a horrible revelation! Do you suppose they made V for Vendetta to drive home that point?

    Giles: Thank you, thank you! Yes, I know what you mean. It can be extremely annoying to make discoveries that improve you, because improvement takes so much work!

  6. A great epiphany and so true. I'll remember it always because it is so important to my writing.

  7. A conversation I had with my dear old dad, years ago:

    Dad: Rock and a hard place!!!
    Me: What?
    Dad: I always thought it was "between a rock and a hot plate!" Between a rock and a hard place makes way more sense!

    Anyway - showing, not telling, was something drilled into my head in college. And I still sometimes have trouble with it. But when I'm editing, I can certainly see the benefits. I'm often commenting, much to my author's chagrin - WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS? SHOW ME!