Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Telling Tuesdays 2/7/12-"He dreaded the news."

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. Feel free to use the prompt, or the photo (if a photo is shown.) Of course, if you have a completely different "telling" prompt, you can "show" us that, too.

As always, I invite you to leave a link to your website or blog with your comments.


He dreaded the news.

The following is an excerpt from Broken Dolls. The scene takes place in December, 1941. Terrence is unable to get into the Christmas spirit, because he misses his daddy, who is stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Missy and Patty serenaded all the way home. Jingle bells, jingle bells. Over and over. Way too many times.
Terrence shook his head. “Come on, you two. Don’t you know any other songs?”
Wouldn’t matter none. He just wasn’t in the mood, even with a tree tied to the top of the car. Even with Christmas carols and colored lights showing through windows everywhere. It’d be a fine scene – if only Daddy was home.
Momma turned into the driveway. “Wonder why Brother Harold’s sitting on our porch swing? And who’s that man . . . in the uniform?” Her voice faded to a whisper.
Patty and Missy stopped singing.
The whole world came to a stop. The talking. The movement. The breathing. Something buzzed in his ear and clutched Terrence’s heart tight. Wouldn’t let go. Might never let go.
Momma’s hands clutched the steering wheel. She whispered real slow. “You kids . . . go on in the house now. I be there in a minute.”
Terrence lifted Missy out of the car and took Patty’s hand. No matter how bad he didn’t want to know, he knew.
Let’s just back up, Momma. Get back in the car. Get back to the Christmas tree lot. I promise I won’t complain about looking for the perfect tree. Won’t never complain about having to get up early. Just please. No way. No way do we want none of what Brother Harold has to tell us.
Terrence nodded as he shuffled past Brother Harold. But he couldn’t—wouldn’t—look him in the eye.
Brother Harold touched him on the shoulder with his large, warm hand. It sent shivers all over, tensed every part of his body.
Once inside the house, Terrence put Missy down and shut the front door. “You two go on and play now,” he said.
Missy ran off to her room, but Patty stared at her brother, her eyes looking more scared than he’d ever seen them. “I don’t want to play. Why’s Brother Harold here? Is it Dad—”
Don’t you say it!
“I said, go on now Patty. I wanna talk to Momma when she comes in.”
He pressed his ear to the door, wanting to hear, yet so desperately not wanting to hear. His heart begged for a way—any way—to stop time, to go back in time.


  1. Oh, Jan! I haven't heart this before. Wonderful scene!

  2. Okay, Jan. Here's a scene from Limited Visibility that, I hope, SHOWS dread.

    It’s the scent of jasmine that assaults me first. Three-inch heels on high, leather boots are loud on the bar’s plank floor. The knee-highs are the dull gray of a dead dove’s breast. Her skirt dances softly around her legs, stops an inch below her knees, hugs the curve of her hips like the obscene hands of an illegitimate lover. I have no idea what fabric it is. Silk? Lamb’s wool? The gossamer dreams of the innocent? Tucked into the waistband is a sheer blouse the color of pink rose petals floating in a champagne flute. Or maybe it’s the peach tint of a discarded newborn’s cheek.
    I refuse to raise my eyes any higher. She can leave now. Rose Ambrose. My mother. Just knowing she’s alive is enough. Now she can go. Far away from me. Maybe call once a decade or so. To keep in touch.
    Those heels! Closer and closer.
    Her scent. Stronger and stronger.
    No escape. I raise my eyes to look into the face I’ve dreamed about for thirty-three years.

  3. Bravo, Pam. That is wonderful, and knowing your character, yes, THAT is dread. Can't wait to hear more!

  4. Loved yours and Pam's dread scenes, Jan. Ya'll have both left me dread-full! I'll try to come up with one later. Oh wait. I have one right now, and it's fiction based on my own sort of dread today (no threat of losing my job, at least not for faulty data):

    The instrument sat on the counter in the other room, torch glowing. If the mechanical arm zipping down one axis and across to the other had the ability to personify it would be singing, oblivious to the fate awaiting the technician who approached the door, papers in hand. If the data failed to prove her theory again, the paper she'd hold next would be her dismissal.

    1. Oh, no, Madison! Yes, that is a dreadful scene all right. I hope everything turned out okay!

  5. The radio alarm vibrates with a bouncy beat of disgusting disco. Who picked this damn station to wake up to? Outside, the sun crawls over the eastern horizon and dares to peek inside my window.
    One hundred yards away the beast is waiting. Waiting to be fed. Her insatiable hunger grows with each passing moment. Just a few short days ago she rose from the earth—a tiny hatchling, seemingly innocent. Now she reaches for the sky, fists clutched, demanding that I submit to her every whim.
    “Feed me! Feed me damn it! I want your undivided attention. Give me every second of your precious time. Don’t even think about writing. Your ass is mine. Now, pick up that hammer and get busy.”

    1. Russell, did someone wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, or is this purely fiction? :) I dread asking who (or what?) the beast is!

    2. I'll put some photos of the beast on my blog later. For now, I've put her on a diet, but I suppose I'll feed her some more over the weekend.

  6. He dreaded the news. Already, all the local and cable TV channels were carrying live coverage.

    The 747 had crashed shortly after takeoff and authorities were searching the snow for survivors and bodies. The plane's tail was smouldering in one part of the field, the front cabin was grotesquely planted in another and the main fuselage was off, by itself, in some leafless trees, folding its wings in an unanswered prayer. Inky smoke drifted through the area making the entire scene a black-and-white film rudely colourised by flickering flames while the sky was that shade of grey that means more snow is coming.

    He paced in front of the television, constantly shifting his gaze from the screen to the phone and back again, all the while trying to figure out what to do with his hands. First, he held them close to his chest. Then, he touched his fingers to his temples. Then he interlaced his fingers and wrung his hands so tightly they turned white and lost feeling. Finally, he swung his arms back and forth before halting his steps and letting his arms just hang at his side.

    How long do these things take? Shouldn't they already KNOW something by now? Maybe this kind of thing always takes a long time so they are sure their information is accurate. With so many people on the flight, it would probably take a while to reach everyone, anyway.

    What if nobody called him until tomorrow? Would it take that long? Could he wait that long?

    He gulped down some dry air, barely able to swallow and he imagined his intestines were being fed through a meat grinder and the resulting strands were being used to make rope. More and more, that rope was being tied into a knot.

    His head started to throb as though it contained the clapper of a bell rattling back and forth, back and forth, sounding the alarm. Ring, ring, ring, ring.

    Ring, ring, ring. That wasn't his head; that was the telephone. Someone was calling him and the phone was ringing.

    He raced over to the phone, but hesitated to pick it up. He dreaded the news. It was their fiftieth wedding anniversary and now he may never see them again. He lifted the receiver.


    "Danny, is that you? Are you okay? You sound as if something's wrong?"


    "Yes, Danny. Listen: the snow was getting so bad here that the taxi was late. We couldn't get to the airport and we missed our flight. It looks like it's going to be at least another day or two before we can get another flight to come see you. I know you had something special planned for us, but it won't hurt to wait a couple more days after fifty years. I'll call you later on and let you know when the next flight will be. Honey, are you sure you're all right? You're not saying much. Do you have the flu again? Danny?"

    501 Words

    1. Wow, LupusAnthropos -- I not only felt the dread, I felt huge relief, too. Good job!

  7. Well done, Jan. I loved the realistic dialogue and the part where he's promising everything under the sun. Powerful scene.

    1. Thanks, Beth. I knew I'd be promising everything under the sun, too.