Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Telling Tuesdays 01/17/12

Welcome to Telling Tuesday, a day reminiscent of those in school when I looked forward to seeing what everyone brought for show and tell. This weekly feature was inspired by an article on WriteToDone.com, called "How to Show (Not Tell): A Writing Lesson from John LeCarre."

It is one of the best articles I've seen on the rule all writers know--show, don't tell--because it doesn't just tell us how not to tell, it shows us some of LeCarre's very own examples.

" . . . descriptions can set the scene, convey the inexpressible, and turn the reader into a witness, instead of remaining a mere bystander." -- Mary Jaksch, author of the article

Each week, I'll give a "telling" prompt, and invite you to show us, to make us a witness, not a mere bystander.

We had a bit of a mishap at the bonfire on Saturday. One of the lanterns we released into the air caught a down draft and the lantern came crashing down into the grass. At first it looked like it would burn itself out, but then we could tell the grass caught fire. With the wind blowing, it wouldn't be long before the tiny fire got out of control. This gave me my prompt for the week:

Smoke got in her eyes.

     Only moments before, the group of friends had circled around a bonfire. Into the flames, they had each tossed notes jotted with things they wanted to be rid of in the New Year.
     Hers was fear.
     Now, they watched lanterns they had released into the air, filled with aspirations and blessings for the New Year. Up the bright red lanterns drifted. Up, up, up, carrying each into the Universe.
     But the wind whipped and blew one to the ground, bringing a chorus of "oh no" from the group.
     Whose lantern had crashed? She watched it begin to burn out, until another gust of wind blew.
     The embers turned the flames! The grass was ablaze!
     She ran. Ran hard, her mind filled with images of an out-of-control blaze. Breathless, she arrived at the circle of flames that danced like devils in the wind. She stomped the orange heat, but it continued to grow around her, so she stomped harder. Faster.
     Water. A shovel. She needed something. Anything. The flames spread. Smoke burned her eyes. Fire scorched her shoes.
     It was out of control.
     Then, someone came beside her and began slamming the ground with a coat. She stomped, the person next to her slammed. She didn't know, didn't care who it was. She was only glad not to be alone.
     "Don't worry, Jan," the person said, "I got your back."
     "Oh, please, God," Ruth whispered. "Please help us put out this fire."
     Slowly, slowly, the flames died. Jan kept stomping. Ruth kept slamming. Until at last, every ember had burned out.
     Relieved, they hugged each other, each reliving the experience through breathless phrases.
     "Can't believe . . ."
     "Brave . . ."
     "Got your back . . ."
     "Thank God . . ."
     As they walked away from the blackened circle in the grass, Jan smiled, remembering that piece of paper she'd tossed into the bonfire.
     And the blessing she had released into the Universe.

Okay. That was my slightly creative non-fiction of an actual event. Show me yours!

As always, feel free to offer critique (ie, was it suspenseful? Did you "feel" it? How can it be improved?) And I always invite you to include a link to your blog in your comments.


  1. My favorite line: "...circle of flames that danced like devils." Yes, I felt like I was there especially when you and Ruth were stomping and slamming out the fire. Nice job and I can't believe this happened. Was the fire as big as it looks in the photo? Who hosted this fun event?

    1. No, the fire wasn't nearly that big - that was one of the "creative" parts. :) But it makes for a good story, eh?

  2. Great story, Jan. I could feel the heat and exhaustion. Sounds like Ruth is a regular Smokey Bear.

    1. Thanks, Russell. Dixie Ruth is a woman of many talents. :)

  3. Dear Jan,

    As I read your story I found myself reliving an event just such as this that involved my brother, his friends, a dry grass field and a fire. They lost the battle Jan and Ruth won. Thanks for the link to LeCarre's work. See you next Friday.



    1. So sorry your brother and his friends lost the battle. Believe me - I know how quickly it can get out of control. It happened once on our farm, too. Took the whole day to put out the flames. See you on Fictioneer Friday!

  4. Well, I have written something in response to your challenge, but now I'm not sure exactly what the prompt is supposed to be. Is it the picture? Is it the phrase "Smoke got in her eyes"? Is it your specific situation with the lanterns and the accidental fire? Some combination?

    Since your own story did not use the exact phrase "Smoke got in her eyes," I presume the prompt was not the exact phrase, but your story DID mention that the smoke burned her eyes, which DOES relate to the phrase.

    What I have written was based upon the photo and contains neither the phrase nor your accidental-fire situation so, before I post it anywhere, please explain how this is supposed to work.

    One more thing: it would appear from one thing you mentioned, that you want participants to post entries on their own blogs and then post the links to the entries here. Is that correct or is this supposed to be like some of the other challenges that want the full text of the entries to be posted in the comments?


    1. Sorry for the confusion, LupusAnthropos! We're pretty flexible here. The challenge is to take the "telling" statement, "Smoke got in her eyes," and write a segment of a story that "shows" us, using some or all of the five senses. I just posted a picture as a visual. Of course, you're free to use the photo as a prompt, too. No word count minimum or maximum, and you don't have to use the given phrase in the story.

      Also, it's up to you whether you post the story here or on your blog, but be sure to leave a link.

      Thanks, and again, sorry for the confusion!

  5. Derek reached into his pocket and fumbled for his blue lighter. His Camel-smoking grandfather had given him that lighter. He was going to miss having it nearby but not as much as he missed Marney. He lit the cigarette and inhaled. Deeply. Then again. The orange glow on the end made him smile. He wanted this moment to last. Soon, the charcoal ashes were an inch long and he flicked them out the window. His radio blared as he approached Marney’s former house. Their former house.

    He couldn’t believe the home was now in foreclosure, and it was all because of him. His radio blared and the bass coursed through his body as he took one long, last drag. The orangey glow excited him. To some, the taste of a cigarette might be akin to licking an ash tray, but to Derek it was better than coffee ice cream. The last long drag satisfied and he flicked it out the window. He had finally quit smoking for her. For Marney.

                Less than an hour later, Derek felt energized by his new-found courage and decisive decision. He put on his running shorts and tied his sneakers. He wanted to run. He felt happy and healthy—for the first time in weeks. He chose a path near Marney’s house. Their former home gave him strength and the hope that they would eventually reunite. As he neared Suburban Avenue, he heard sirens. Then the smell of smoke singed his nostrils. It couldn’t be. He ran so fast his heart felt as though it would launch itself out of his chest. He ran like an Olympian as he rounded the corner. His body stiffened as he saw dark, billowing smoke rolling toward the heavens.

    1. Jan, you gave me a great plot twist for my new novel. Thanks! And I actually added 1444 words to my JANO novel today. Yippee.

    2. Excellent "showing" and sense of place, Beth! I could almost taste that cigarette, and I'm not a smoker :)

      Glad to help with the plot twist and congratulations on your word count for the day!

    3. Thanks, Jan. I'm so happy with this turn of events. See, you're not distracting me from my work. Rather, you're helping me to be creative and write! And who knew this would become a scene in my new novel?!

      Derek is in all kinds of trouble now. Will Marney ever take him back? It's not looking good at the moment since she's in the hospital because of his last cigarette.

      Hope the poetry emceeing went well!

    4. Ouch! Not just one but two lessons learned. Nicely done.

  6. It had begun with a simple act of disobedience. One ill choice had introduced a cataclysmic force beyond the comprehension of those who witnessed it. The glowing inferno raged higher and wider than anyone had ever seen or anticipated. Many even refused to believe it was true.

    No rain appeared to provide even the slightest relief as the tongues of red, orange, yellow and every shade in between danced a forbidden, eternal dance that was both seductive and destructive at the same time. Any wind that crossed the pit served only to stoke the embers to even-more-impossible levels.

    The blaze was so intense that it had melted the equipment of all previous efforts to photograph it. Likewise, the smoke was too suffocating for anyone to approach, even with the latest fire-fighters' suits and air-filtration masks.

    Even so, the evidence was incontrovertible and the damage incalculable despite the inconceivable fact that nothing at the centre of the conflagration was being consumed in the least but remained perfectly intact.

    Still stunned by the picture, sweating, gasping and blinking as though she had actually touched the flames, tasted the poisoned air and gotten the smoke into her eyes, one of the scientists who had been invited to the conference inquired, "Which one is this? Nevada? California? New Mexico? How did it get this bad?"

    "No," replied the keynote presenter, "I'm sorry to say, this is nothing that small, ladies and gentlemen. You have to realise the scale of the image. What you are viewing is not the latest south-western brush fire but the result of our closely guarded and carefully conducted research to use the same technology as the Hubble telescope to study Hades. If you zoom in on the picture, you will find that what the flames are enveloping are not stalks of grass, but people. This, my associates, is Hell."

    314 Words

  7. Oooh. Love the surprise ending!

  8. Wow, LupusAnthropos--good one. Surprise ending, yet when I went back, I should have seen it coming!

  9. Thanks, Beth and Jan.

    Jan, that's how I had hoped it would be. The clues were all there.

  10. I see the clues now. Missed them the first reading.

  11. Oh, Jan, I just read your story and tears are streming down my cheeks. I will never forget that special night. The wish to rid yourself of fear was granted in one swift moment. You never hesitated but ran toward danger with only the thought of saving the home and land of a friend. I was proud to stomp beside you and was so thankful you were there. I will always have your back and I would "ride the river" with you any time, any where.

    1. Thank you for your comment and your friendship, Firefighter Dixie Ruth!

    2. ok. I'm putting my story on my blog. Look for it! truthsbyruth.blogspot.com