I’ve been doing an online creative writing course through the Sydney Writers’ Centre. It’s a five week course. Each week, I listen to an hour or so of tutorial before preparing an assignment. The last assignment was about description and this was my contribution:
Left in the wake is a lagoon of salty, black, murky water slammed between the escarpment and the road; gorged with thousands of pieces of coral ripped from the reef and shards of wood smashed from the trees and the houses. Coconut trees float next to fridges. Wet logs and dark leaves cover the water. The beach has vanished from sight. The bright blue sky surrounds a tropical sun. Too beautiful a day for such destruction; even this early in the morning.
Deathly, unnatural silence. No birds. No pigs. No dogs. And the people? What happened to the all those people on the beach?
There are some crawling into the wet, moist earth of the jungle. A small boy, covered in mud and splinters of wood, is calling for his mother. It’s not cold but he is shivering. His mother must be the one in the pink shirt, pounded hard against a tree. She is treading water trying desperately to push part of a house off her chest. She is trying hard to survive. She will never remember the noise. She can hear only her breath. Her son’s call has yet to register.
It’s the water that I can never explain. I can’t work out how to describe the black, murky water full of debris. Or the silence. I can’t explain the silence either.
And this was the comment from the tutor:
Because this is a strong situation, the description at the beginning works well, but the reader’s interest is heightened when we can link to the small boy. I’m not keen on the last few lines from: “His mother must be…” and I think this is because there is a shift in the narrative position. We had an omniscient narrator who was offering observations (without interpretation) moment-by-moment, which is good as it works well. Then there is a sudden switch to a narrator offering guesses and opinions. Do you see what I mean? Also this part feels like “telling” rather than “showing”. A very strong beginning where you use a range of senses very effectively, but the shift in narrative position weakens the piece.
She’s right. I really do need to work on my showing rather than telling.