actions speak louder than words (in writing & life)

So, I decided to swing by Starbucks yesterday. My first iced coffee of the season was long overdue. I’d been craving a tall one for a while now, but with everything that’s happened over the past couple of weeks I just haven’t had the time. (I’ve managed to keep the sordid details from you; hence, the uber-quiet blog since January! You’re welcome.)

Well, no more. I was feeling particularly depressed due to a recent rough patch with work, wasting another early a.m. writing session trying to break through this new scene, and then on top of it all getting a late start after kiddo had an accident during the night.

Anyway. I dropped the little one off and got in line, not paying attention to anything other than my phone and all the work emails pouring in. I pulled up to the window and handed my card to the grinning barista, who shook her head at me.

“The car ahead of you just paid.”


She snorted and offered a conspiratorial nod, holding the cup a little closer to my still-outstretched hand. “They paid for your drink. Here you go.”

“What?” (Gimme a break! I was getting a coffee for a reason, okay?)

“I get that all the time. You don’t have to pay.” To her credit, her smile didn’t falter once. And I was being particularly dense.

I finally took the coffee and zoomed out with a dazed grin, searching around the parking lot for the black car (maybe 4-door sedan? Might’ve been dark blue? Man or woman? I tell you, I’d been in complete disregard for my surroundings while waiting for my caffeine. Yeah, I’m one of Those People.)

Gone. And it got me thinking about “paying it forward”. About how what we do affects people around us all the time, no matter how big or small, but definitely good or bad.

And finally it struck a chord with me about illustrating characters. People talk about “showing, not telling” all the time. You hear the advice at least once a day on Twitter or on your favorite blog. Yeah, yeah.

But I struggle with it. I almost never notice while writing the first draft, which I naturally think is phenomenal. Until I print it out for the polish, that is. All too quickly the pages turn into a bloodbath of red X’s and snide comments about my crappy prose.

But enough about my draft (did you perhaps catch that I’m stuck in revision hell at the moment?)…

Inspiration hit about how to show my characters’ personalities better. No more “frustration cramped her shoulders.” Instead, how about

She threw her entire body into scrubbing the red graffiti from the storefront’s brick siding. Her shoulders protested, but all she could see in front of her was Chunk’s asinine grin as he jotted down notes from his play-interview. The officer clearly thought she had something to do with the boy’s death. And her tax dollars were paying his salary?

I watched for that car – my Coffee-Godsend, as I had dubbed it – for the rest of my commute. How could I turn someone else’s day around like she had, mine?

And you’ll be happy to know that I successfully dodged the texting-while-swerving car in front of me. Luckily he eased up on the steering wheel once he tossed his nasty cigarette out the window (ggrrrr).

Thank God my windows were rolled up. (It’s SC in summer, folks – that means it’s 178 degrees at 7 a.m.!)

What are some of your fave ways to “show, not tell?” Do you catch it as you write, or revise? Tell me I’m not the only one who struggles with this!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *