Show, don’t tell.
Learn from Jon Krakauer in Into the Wild.
I was working then as an itinerant carpenter, framing condominiums in Boulder for $3.50 and hour. One afternoon, after nine hours of humping two-by-tens and driving sixteen-penny nails, I told my boss I was quitting: “No, not in a couple of weeks, Steve; right now was more like what I had in mind.” It took me a few hours to clear my tools and other belongings… (135-136)
What Krakauer does here: There’s dialogue, but only one line. Rather than giving us the entire conversation, he gives us only what we most need to understand the substance of the conversation.
The lesson to learn: Let the people in your narrative speak, but use just what you need with dialogue. The reader may not need the entire conversation. Continue reading “Five things from Jon Krakauer’s Narrative Genius that You Should Steal and Use Immediately”
When my family first moved to North Carolina, we lived in a rented house three blocks from the school where I would begin the third grade. My mother made friends with one of the neighbors, but one seemed enough for her. Within a year we would move again and, as she explained, there wasn’t much point in getting too close to people we would have to say good-bye to. Our next house was less than a mile away, and the short journey would hardly merit tears or even good-byes, for that matter. It was more of a “see you later” situation, but still I adopted my mother’s attitude, as it allowed me to pretend that not making friends was a conscious choice. I could if I wanted to. It just wasn’t the right time.
Continue reading “Us and Them by David Sedaris”
At just about the hour when my father died, soon after dawn one February morning when ice coated the windows like cataracts, I banged my thumb with a hammer. Naturally I swore at the hammers the reckless thing, and in the moment of swearing I thought of what my father would say: “If you’d try hitting the nail it would go in a whole lot faster. Don’t you know your thumb’s not as hard as that hammer?” We both were doing carpentry that day, but far apart. He was building cupboards at my brother’s place in Oklahoma; I was at home in Indiana, putting up a wall in the basement to make a bedroom for my daughter. By the time my mother called with news of his death–the long distance wires whittling her voice until it seemed too thin to bear the weight of what she had to say-my thumb was swollen. A week or so later a white scar in the shape of a crescent moon began to show above the cuticle and month by month it rose across the pink sky of my thumbnail. It took the better part of a year for the scar to disappear, and every time I noticed it I thought of my father.
Continue reading “The Inheritance of Tools, by Scott Russell Sanders”
I fell in love with the minister’s son the winter I turned fourteen. He was not Chinese, but as white as Mary in the manger. For Christmas I prayed for this blond-haired boy, Robert, and a slim new American nose.
When I found out that my parents had invited the minister’s family over for Christmas Eve dinner, I cried. What would Robert think of our shabby Chinese Christmas? What would he think of our noisy Chinese relatives who lacked proper American manners? What terrible disappointment would he feel upon seeing not a roasted turkey and sweet potatoes but Chinese food?
Continue reading “Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan”
Excerpt from piece originally published in The New Yorker
by Lena Dunham
Family legend: I am four. It’s midafternoon, between mealtimes, and my mother has a friend over. They are chatting in the living room and I am playing in a corner when the buzzer rings (another guest has arrived) and I cry out, “Dinner’s here!”
We are being raised on delivery, but it’s a fight. Every day around 6 p.m., my parents come home (from their studios, which are two floors below in our building, on Broadway, with its rounded fire escapes) and the dinner debate rages.
Continue reading “Deliverance”