Sunday, May 29, 2011

Show versus tell - the wild, wild West of books!

The mundane things we take for granted are really quite interesting when you see them through the eyes of a good writer.  A lot of the writing advice I've read recently tells you to "show" the reader versus "tell" the reader what is happening in the life of your characters.  Instead of  "It was a hot and windy day on the beach", how about  "Beads of sweat were dripping from Jack's face as he tried to run through the soft sand that kept sucking his feet under with each step.   The gust of wind that had lifted his beach umbrella from the sand had also taken his hat and he was torn between chasing the $50 Panama that made him look super cool or the cheap umbrella that was heading straight for the bikini clad girls on the beach blanket.  The bikini's won out." 

Did I "show" you that it was a hot and windy day at the beach?  Or did I just lead you on a wild goose chase with a beach umbrella.  Either way, you've got to admit it was a little more descriptive, don't you think?  Louis L'Amour drew pictures with his words about the old West and if you've never heard of Louis L'Amour, you've never had the pleasure of actually smelling a campfire burning through the pages of a book - of seeing firsthand the cold hatred in the eyes of a gunslinger facing the  honest, hardworking cowboy who just happens to be a fast drawing good old boy.  You've never felt how the "bad guy" feels when the first bullet hits him in the chest and you can see his body lurch with the impact of the bullet and watch as his life blood goes out of him.  The late Mr. L'Amour showed his readers how it felt to be a cowboy, how to savor the smells, how to enjoy the scenery, and how to live and die a cowboy.  He was a master of showing, not telling.  And yes, I'm a closet reader of Western novels.  Who would've believed it of me?

My late brother, Joe, got me started reading these books.  He had the whole collection and he had read them all at least a dozen times.  While I was helping to take care of Joe during one of his many rounds of cancer and chemo treatments, I picked up one of the books and started reading.  I was hooked.  Joe was an ex-Marine and a cowboy at heart.  He fought a good fight up until the very end - just like one of the many characters he liked to read about.  Cancer was the bad guy - and the bad guy won.   I can just picture Joe up there in heaven right now with Mr. L'Amour, re-living the cowboy days and telling a tall tale or two. 

Louis L'Amour was born in 1908 and died in 1988.  He was the author of 126 books and I've read all but a handful - twice.   This weekend I picked up four that I haven't read from The Bookworm, a unique little new and used book store at Holden Beach.  I will have some fine reading this week, but will get little else done since I can't seem to put his books down once I've started.  I can already smell those campfires burning.  And here's one of his lessons about life that may come in handy sometime - better not stare at the campfire or your eyes won't be able to focus on your enemy when he comes riding up on his brown sorrel horse with his six-guns a'flaming.  That's something we all need to know. 

"A book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think."
Louis L'Amour (Education of a Wandering Man)


  1. Very interesting post today and I shall try to take your comments on board about showing the reader, rather than telling the reader, in my future blog posts! Enjoy your secret pleasure!

  2. Thanks thisisme, I've already started reading one of the books. My eccentricity is beginning to show through in my posts - I'll have to be on guard, LOL.

  3. I have to tell you..I have many L.L'Amour I knit/crochet..I head out with the cowboys..haha..All kidding aside..I enjoy them very much and do listen to them more than once.
    It makes my knitting/crocheting so much more interesting..Have a good day..Rosebud.

  4. Rosebud, I'm so glad to hear that there are other female L'Amour fans - I thought I was the only one. I have tapes also. I listen to them in the car when I'm going on a long trip.


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