I hope you're all ready to enjoy my FAVORITE season of the year. Halloween is coming, and I couldn't be more excited. Unfortunately, it's also my busiest time of the year. The kids are always especially busy with things in the fall.
In addition to everything else going on, I'm also in the middle of that short story course I mentioned earlier. Recently, the course covered the obligatory "show vs. tell" topic in relation to the opening paragraph of a short story. I won't go into too many details on the specifics of what's written in the course materials. I wouldn't want to take away from the livelihood of the people who teach and put the course together.
I WILL cover the two things you must always remember about your opening paragraph, however, and I think these views are shared by everyone I've ever heard speak on the topic:
1. The opening paragraph is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of your short story. If you can't get a reader's interest in that first paragraph, the reader will most likely not want to read on.
2. In order to do that, you must immerse the reader in what's happening. The reader has to be invested in the main character and his/her problem, and the reader must be compelled to read on.
So in honor of this topic, and in honor of Halloween coming up, I'll share with you a piece of the latest assignment I submitted to the course. It's an opening to a new Halloween-themed story I've been working on. The assignment was to write a "telling" version of the opening paragraph of my story and then to write a "showing" version of the same paragraph.
"Telling" opening paragraph:
Marvyn made scary cupcakes for Halloween. He was hoping to bring back the essence of Halloween. Halloween had gotten too cute over the years. Marvyn longed for the good ol' days of scary costumes, homemade treats, and scary movies on TV on Halloween night.
"Showing" opening paragraph:
Marvyn applied the frosting tip, and a gash of red appeared in the middle of the zombie's forehead, as if he had slashed at it with a scalpel. Another stroke with a different bag of frosting, and the zombie's skin appeared to pull back from its face. Satisfied, he placed the cupcake next to the others. When the neighborhood kids, with their cute mermaid, princess, and robot costumes, came calling this Halloween, he would show them what Halloween was really all about. Unfortunately, the days of enjoying horror movies on TV were long gone, but that was fine. He'd make his own entertainment.
I'm not going to say the "telling" opening paragraph is perfect, but I'm sure you can easily see the differences between the two. Which one would you rather read? Which one makes you part of the scene? Which one introduces the main character better and makes his conflict known? Which ones makes you want to read on?
Here's something to remember when dealing with the opening paragraph of your story that they didn't cover in my course. After you've written your first, second, fifth draft even, always assume your paragraph is a "telling" paragraph, and ask yourself what you can to do add more details and make it a more "showing" paragraph. You can never spend too much time on the first paragraph, so make it shine.
Happy Halloween all, and happy writing!