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Not Just Showing, Part III

            For some examples on going beyond ‘showing’ versus ‘telling’:

First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day’s march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of fight pretending. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there. More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elusive on the matter of love. She was a virgin, he was almost sure. She was an English major at Mount Sebastian, and she wrote beautifully about her professors and roommates and midterm exams, about her respect for Chaucer and her great affection for Virginia Woolf. She often quoted lines .of poetry; she never mentioned the war, except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself. The letters weighed ten ounces. They were signed “Love, Martha,” but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant. At dusk, he would carefully return the letters to his rucksack. Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter, then at full dark he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin.

        This passage shows a lot, but it doesn’t just catalogue details or offer specificity. It connects them to an emotion, and brings a reader to the internal state of the character. It evokes.

         Or consider, Chapter 1 of Elizabeth Bowen’s The Heat of the Day. She recreates what it means to be taken away in music or a concert. It’s not just the details.

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About 20smtg

Early 20s--Working for a few years after college, including part-time freelance writing. Hope to go back to school at some point, and become a scholar.

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