Tuesday, February 5, 2008


There are two basic ways to tell readers about your characters. Indulge me as I provide an autobiographical illustration.

The door to the hotel room clanked shut. I set my briefcase down and rubbed my eyes. I was in town for 36 hours, visiting business acquaintances, meeting a few old friends, and inspecting some real estate. Every minute was planned up until I flew out the following night.

I took a shower and marveled as I dried off at how one could make a towel so scratchy without it actually becoming sandpaper. I brushed along my gum line and carefully flossed each tooth. Then I got into bed. Like some great gravitational pull, fatigue began to drag me down.

My eyes popped open. An alarm -- I couldn’t sleep in. I flicked on the bedside light. The clock radio on the dresser looked older than the room itself, studded with such a multitude of buttons and knobs that it virtually ensured that I’d set it incorrectly. I got up, got my cell and turned its alarm to just before sunrise. I went back to bed.

A minute passed. Then I found myself inspecting my cell, making sure I hadn’t turned the ringer off, moving it right next to the bed. A few more minutes staring at the ceiling before I was finding my PDA, setting
alarm and putting it clear on the opposite side of the room. Back to bed, lights off, head on pillow.

I awoke four times that night, clawing for my cell, certain I’d somehow missed its warning.

Or consider the second option.

It had been a long trip up here and the next day looked busy. Every minute was scheduled. When I got into the hotel room, I carefully set two alarms before going to bed, which shows I’m a little Type A, I suppose. Despite being exhausted, I was so worried about missing my morning appointments that I kept waking up in the night.

Your preference, dear readers?

(Picture: CC 2007 by seanmcgrath)


Amy said...

I'm a big fan of "show, don't tell," which means I opt for the first one. I like to draw my own conclusions - it makes me feel smart and insightful. However, in my opinion, there are few things more exasperating than an entire book full of "showing, not telling," so...a healthy balance of show and tell makes me happiest...

Loren Eaton said...

Yes, there are some things it's better to just explain. No one wants five paragraphs on picking between one's incisors ...