Show, don’t tell

Show, don’t tell is a technique to allow the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author’s exposition, summarization, and description. It describes the scene in such a way that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions. - LINK


snapshot/2: an impression or view of something brief or transitory. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition


Like a photographer framing a shot, a writer selects details that show more than they tell. Crime scenes are different. In them, what is telling is in the eye of the beholder. 

In a trash can filled with loot in the Frye garage in 1973, lead cop Sendle was struck by a pair of Ray Bans. Why would a burglar steal clip-on sunglasses? When he interviewed Duane, he noticed that Duane wore glasses. You wear sunglasses? Sendle asked. Yes, Duane said, clip-ons. He reached in his shirt pocket, but to his surprise they weren’t there. Sendle never forgot the look on Duane’s face. Course not, Sendle told me forty years later. He dropped them when he was leaning over that trash barrel filling it with loot.

Looking at the crime scene photographs in 2014, something else jumped out at me. At the top of one of the cans was a rectangular package. Wrapped in silver paper with cupids and doves, it had a shiny ribbon and a stick-on bow. I pictured Duane running through the house after he killed Betty, grabbing things that made no sense to a burglar and meant nothing to him. Not his expensive shotguns or stuff a burglar could fence, but cheap clocks and appliances, a TV with a broken antenna, and a wedding gift. 

In a photo taken at our wedding weeks later, Doug and I embrace. My new father-in-law grins as he pours me champagne. Moments earlier, he’d handed me a wrapped gift. Eagerly I’d torn off the cupid-and-doves paper and shiny bow. Inside were two long-stemmed silver-plated wine glasses. From Betty and me, Duane said as he toasted us with glasses he’d thrown in the trash after beating his wife to death. 

Without even knowing their history, Doug and I never drank from those wine glasses again. When Doug left nine years later, he didn’t take them with him. When I remarried, I gave them to Good Will. 

Looking back at a photo of an event whose meaning has changed, does anything jump out? If nothing had changed, would you notice that detail?


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