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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Watching in Silence

P1000069 Last week, I led a discussion at my local writer’s group meeting about the writing rule, “show, don’t tell.”

If you aren’t a writer, I won’t bore you with a lot of details, but the best definition of this rule I’ve found comes from a book called “Writing A to Z” by Writer’s Digest:

“It [show, don’t tell] is the difference between actors acting out an event, and the lone playwright standing on a bare stage recounting the event to the audience.”

One of the best ways I know to show, rather than tell is to be alert to the small things in life and then use your observations in your writing.

One of the examples I used is my fascination with silence. Not silence in the contemplative sort of way, but instead in the intimate sort of way. I love being able to sit in a room with somebody without either person feeling the need to fill the silence. Silence is a means of communication. It can be good or bad, but I’m talking about the good.

Let me show you an example of this particular type of silence. In the novel “A Window Across the River” by Brian Morton, a woman named Nora is contemplating calling a former boyfriend named Isaac whom she hasn’t spoken to in five years. She doesn’t know if he’s married now. And she doesn’t know if he’ll be angry for calling him at 3:00 am. But something drives her to dial his number anyway.

After three rings, he picked up the phone. She could tell from his thick hello that he’d been sleeping.

She didn’t say anything. Maybe this was all she’d wanted. To hear his voice was enough.

She didn’t hang up, though.

“Hello?” he said again.

She just kept breathing.

“Nora?” he said.

After five years.

“How did you know it was me?”

She heard him laughing softly. “I recognized your silence. It’s different from anybody else’s.”

It’s a perfect example of a guy who knows his (former) girl so well that he could recognize her silence. I love that.

In recent years, I’ve experimented with silence. When I worked in a bank, I often wore headphones and listened to the radio. When I started working from home, I tried putting the radio on in the background, but it distracted me. I think it distracted me because I was learning to love silence. It speaks to me.

This morning, I looked out my window to see how much snow melted overnight. Just a couple of weeks ago, we had between two and three feet of snow on the ground, dating all the way back to December 8. But temperatures have warmed up and the snow has vanished rapidly.

I took note of the new snow level, but then I saw a thick, green moss covering the tree in my front yard (see photo above) – probably the result of tons of moisture in recent months. It seemed to be saying, yeah, it’s been a tough winter, but spring is on the way. I love the contrast between the green moss on the tree and the defiant pile of snow next to the tree.

If you look at the grass in my neighbors’ yards, pictured behind the tree, you’ll see more resilient green.

Spring is a beautiful picture of Easter. After long, cold wintery days in which everything seems to die, along comes spring and conquers death. Being able to see the conquering in little pieces is inspiring. Witnessing the conquering in silence makes it even better.


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