Daily Archives: September 6, 2006

Appeal to Basic Human Qualities

Teresa asks:
So how can we write the stories on our hearts while appealing to a big enough audience that our publishers at Tsaba House continue to put money behind our projects?

I would suggest that the answer lies in basic human qualities. They never change. They’re timeless. And they connect to a big enough audience. For example, underneath the violence and riod-raging performances in Monday Night Raw, you have classic stories of David versus Goliath/good versus evil where basic human qualities of determination, resilience, and courage reign. Unfortunately there are far more pathetic qualities which ultimately ruin the performance, but you get the idea. Any boxing fans out there? I don’t even like boxing but when I watched the movie, Million Dollar Baby, I was incredibly moved. Someone could also say the same about baseball and the movie Field of Dreams. I think (perhaps naively) the more we focus on building tension/conflict using basic human qualities, the better chance we have in attracting a wider audience no matter the setting we choose.

To digress, Sam mentioned the famous rule of, “Show, don’t tell.” I did a quick search on the internet for some examples. Here’s one that I found at another publisher’s website that clearly illustrated the difference.

Here’s an example of ‘telling’ taken from an actual submission:
Young and physically strong, Izzy had been singled out as a good worker from the very inception of the ghetto. He had worked in several brigades, but his favorite assignment, of course, was the one where he could make a peckel, “make a package,” to smuggle food back inside the ghetto to share with us. While we knew of the imminent danger, we also learned which guards could be bribed.

Here’s how one of our editors has rewritten this passage to demonstrate ‘showing’: Izzy slipped inside the pantry of the barracks kitchen, holding the knob and turning it as he pulled the door shut. Good. No one had seen him, and he hadn’t made a sound. He’d be summarily shot if he were caught in here.
Only a small amount of light filtered in through the transom. He closed his eyes and waited for them to adjust. Then he opened them and saw his hands red, wrinkled, and chapped from a long day spent scrubbing the latrine. No matter. He turned his attention to the canned goods on the shelves, smiling as he quickly stuffed tuna, kippered herring, and a jar of pickles into his knapsack. Food!
The work today hadn’t been easy, but his was one detail he’d welcome any time. This was all he dared take, today. Unless had he missed anything small that could be of use? He opened the cabinets one after the other. Ah, what was this? He reached in and took out a pack of Gitan. He slipped it beneath his shirt, next to his skin. Gitan! The brand the sentry at the Hapsburgh gate to the ghetto smoked. It would make the perfect trade for letting him bring this peckel to his family.”

One page at a time,


Leave a comment

Filed under On Writing