On the way back home Saturday morning, I suddenly realized I needed to get gasoline…and was hungry. I pulled off the next highway exit into a small town that I’d passed on the interstate for years and never been to.
The highway sign had been misleading—yes, there was a Chick-fil-A fast food place there…three miles in. So I ended up driving through a good amount of the town’s main street.
The first thing that I noticed was the fact that I passed four payday loan businesses and a pawn shop on my three mile drive.
Once I noticed that, I also noticed vacant businesses and decrepit-looking buildings.
It all added up to a town in real economic trouble.
I think that’s the reason the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words” was coined. If I’d stood in that town, whipped out my camera, and snapped a picture of the payday advance lender next to the pawn shop with the barred windows (and not gotten my city-slicker rear end kicked), everyone I showed it to would’ve gotten a split second impression.
I love little indicators that, like a picture, tell a lot more. That’s the show, don’t tell, doctrine. Don’t say the character is messy…have a banana peel fall out when they open their car door.
Since descriptions and I don’t get along well anyway, I keep a little notebook with scrawled quick impressions of people and places. I hope my small observations make a bigger statement about the character or setting.
How do you work on showing, not telling?