Exercise: You Don’t Say!

I stumbled upon (rediscovered?) this exercise looking for a prompt almost two weeks ago. It’s very simple—so of course, it never occurred to me to put it down all the way. Like many of my other exercises, this one is about description and visualization—about getting across what you want to say without saying it directly.

Let’s begin, shall we?

Find yourself a statement. This can be just about any statement, but it works best if it’s a statement of something that can be described as having a visible impact: you’re describing symptoms, essentially, so you want something that is likely to have a decent number.

Got that? All right. Now write about it. Describe anything you can think of that could be used to indicate the statement—appearances, characters’ actions and behaviors,  just about anything, with one caveat: the only place where you may use the original statement or any direct equivalent thereof is at the very end. The subject can be mentioned (it would be hard to do the exercise without ever mentioning who you’re talking about, and epithet use requires antecedents), but not the predicate.

Why’s it useful? The short answer is “Show, don’t tell.” The longer version is that it comes at the issue of description from two directions at once. On the one hand, it allows for practice at showing rather than telling; on the other hand, it can help you not only differentiate how this particular subject addresses this statement (different characters having different displays of happiness, or things that could both be considered enormous displaying that attribute in different ways). Not too bad for something that can be done in less text than a standard five-paragraph essay.


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