Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.
These wise words by Anton Chekhov should be posted on every writer’s desk, the background of their laptop, the ringtone of their cell phone – somewhere important, so he or she can look at it and, before submitting their novel to a publisher or their short story to, say, a free online magazine named after a deer, they won’t make the mistake of adding themselves to the rejection statistics.
Sentences such as “He walked the dog on the beach one warm, sunny day in the summer” or “She felt nervous when she told him she loved him” are good for a brainstorm, maybe even a first draft. But these are not experiences for the reader.
Instead of “I wrote this article while eating four cheese ravioli at Bertucci’s,” I should say, “I scribbled notes for this article onto the pages of my notebook while periodically stuffing my mouth with hot ravioli, feta spilling out of the broken shell and disappearing in the tomato sauce.”
This is a true story, too: I have the sauce stains on my journal to prove it. You could see more with the second sentence, and you learned more as well (for example, you learned what a messy eater I am!).
Being a writer, a good writer, is hard work. My number one problem is this same topic. It’s easier to spot mistakes when you’re reading someone else’s work. Especially if you’re writing about something you are actually seeing, it’s even more difficult because you can see it and you know what you mean. That’s why the two most important things a writer can do, besides have Chekhov’s quote displayed, is to revise their work and have someone else look at it.
That’s why editors, and even writing workshops and groups, are so important. It takes a community to help writers develop their work to its full potential. So the next time you write a scene, make sure it shows the action.