Practicing Show and Tell

As a note: The following dialogue is FAR different from my usual writing style. I wrote this as an exercise in showing versus telling. I tried to show the protagonist as eager and happy in the beginning, but gradually more irritated as her boyfriend continues to ignore her. I think I changed tense partway through, but I don’t usually write fiction in first person, so you’ll have to forgive me. I got sick of using phrases like “I thought,” “I knew,” and “I figured.” Perhaps first person narratives are better in present tense? Or I just need to practice first person a bit more. Probably both.


It was cold out, but the walk to his house wasn’t terrible. My hands were still damp from washing my dishes from dinner, so I buried them deep in my pockets to keep them warm. When he told me Friday he wanted to spend time with me, I expected an invite before 8:30 Sunday night.

I put the thought from my mind as I neared his house. I skipped up to the door and let myself in.

“Oi oi!” I called, shutting the door behind me.

“Oi!” Adam appeared from around the corner and hugged me tight.

I hugged him back and kissed him softly.

“Ready to play?” I held up the jewelcase of the game he asked me to bring.

“Yeah!” he smiled, “I’m just going to change first, I’ll be right back.” He kissed my cheek and ran off into another room.

I made my way into the living room and turned on his television. Without waiting for the screen to show up, I turned on the console and popped the disk in. The screen lit up with the familiar colors and I adjusted the volume so we could hear each other over the game. I grabbed a couple pillows from the couch and put them on the ground in front of the coffee table. I picked up a blanket, too, though more for myself than for Adam.

The game had loaded by then, so I sat down and set up the enemy AI for a warm-up game. We’d never lost a game on that map, but it was still a challenge on the hardest settings.

The muscles in my legs were in shock from the sudden change of standing at the sink to bolting out the door. I expected Adam to return any second, so I took a few seconds to stretch my legs. When he didn’t return, I moved on to stretching my arms. He didn’t usually take long to change and it had already been nearly ten minutes. I heard the sound of a light switch from another room.

I finished with a couple back stretches and collapsed onto the couch. I pulled my phone from my pocket and started deleting old text messages. I didn’t really need to, my phone would delete them automatically when the inbox got full, but I was bored.

It had been nearly fifteen minutes and he still wasn’t back. I heard the floorboards above me creak.

I slid off the couch and onto the pillows I put on the floor. I stared at the screen with my head in my hands before deciding the game I created was no good. I picked up the controller and cycled through several other maps. I eventually returned to the original map and tweaked the AI a bit.

Twenty minutes. I sighed. What could possibly take him so long? Why would he ask to come over when he wasn’t even ready?

I left the living room and went into the kitchen. A knife and cutting board were in the sink and there were a couple small pieces of lettuce on the counter top. I wasn’t hungry, but I saw a deck of cards on the table. I dealt out a game of solitaire, and then a second, and a third.

“Coming to play?” Adam’s voice came from the doorway into the living room. How long had he been back and why didn’t he say anything? Does he realize I’ve been waiting for half an hour?

“Yeah, I guess.” I placed an ace next to the other one I found. It was past 9pm by now and part of me just wanted to go home.

“Why so down?” he walked over to where I sat playing cards.

“I’m a little irritated,” I responded. I added the two and three of clubs to the ace.

“Am I irritating you?” he asked. I wanted to say yes, but thought better of it. I didn’t want to argue.

“My impatience  more so,” I answered. I gave up on my solitaire game before I actually lost. I began piling up the cards that faced the same direction. I didn’t feel like playing a game with Adam anymore, but I knew I would enjoy myself I did.

“Sorry I like to enjoy every part of my day and do things right.” he said in a flat voice, looking away from me.

I raised my eyebrows at him, forgetting about putting the cards back into a deck.

“Just come play.” his voice was still flat. He walked back into the living room where the game was still on the television.

“After that statement, I don’t think I want to.” I shouldn’t have said it, but I did. I have a verbal disorder that compels me to be honest, even if it’s a bad idea.

“Alright.” he shut off the console and turned on the cable box.

I stood in the doorway with my arms crossed. I dropped everything I was doing to run here, just for him to ignore me for half an hour. Now he’s mad at me? I took a couple deep breaths to calm myself. I would not fight with him tonight.

“I’m sorry babe,” I said after a moment, “I’m just feeling kind of down tonight, can we do something together?”

Silence. I felt increasingly awkward.

“I saw a dead deer today.” he said without looking away from the television.

“That’s nice.”

“Not really. It was nasty.”

“Hence the sarcasm,” I wanted to kick him.

He turned up the volume on the television.

Annoyed, I went back into the kitchen and got a glass of water. Adam was being an ass, but I wasn’t entirely surprised. He always did things like that. He would rush his friends out the door just to make them wait 45 minutes for him to follow. If anyone said a word about it, he would turn the car around and go back home, ruining everyone’s plans.

I refilled my glass and sat down at the table with it. I glanced at the wall clock. It was approaching 9:30. The bus that would take me home would leave in twenty-five minutes. I’d have to leave in twenty minutes to get to the bus stop on time.

I wrapped my hands around my glass and tapped my fingers on it. I could walk home. I would probably get back home around the same time, but I would be cold. I might as well stay a little longer and give Adam time to apologize.

One minute passed. Two. Three…

Eight minutes. My glass was still half full when Adam came to talk to me.

“Do you want to do something tonight?” he asked from the doorway, television still on.

“I have to leave in twelve minutes, so we don’t have time for much beyond conversation.” I looked at him as I spoke, keeping my voice light.

“I’ll go back to watching the news then.” He returned to the couch.

I had to restrain myself from throwing my half-full glass of water at him.

“Why did you invite me over if you weren’t going to spent time with me?” I asked him as I marched into the living room.

“You said you didn’t have time.” he didn’t look away from the screen.

“Doesn’t mean we can’t talk.”

“You didn’t ask.”

“Didn’t I just?” I wished I could copy and paste spoken words. Shame I didn’t have a tape recorder.

“Aren’t we talking now?”

“This isn’t a conversation, this is an argument.”

“I’m not arguing.”

I interpreted his last statement two ways, but didn’t bother asking which he meant.

“Whatever, I’m going home.”

“Grow up, girl.” he said as he turned off the television.

“Goodbye!” I picked up my bag and put my phone inside it.

“Keep running from your problems and hiding how you feel. See if I care.”

“Did I not tell you I was irritated due to impatience? I’m not hiding anything. Maybe you should learn to listen.”

“It’s hard to listen when you are in eleventeen different moods.” his voice lacked tone, but his jaw was clenched.

“Last I knew, ‘irritated’ was a single mood.” my temper was getting the best of me.

“It makes you rude and arrogant.”

“I’m rude and arrogant because I’m irritated?”

“Why talk to people if you’re so impatient?”

“Why am I talking to you?”

I left his house and slammed the door shut behind me. I made it to the bus stop in record time, ignoring my phone all the while.

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About Squishy

Writer, dancer, gamer, and admirer of all that is beautiful.

Posted on October 11, 2010, in Ishy Writes! and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Excellent piece. It conveyed a lot of emotion, so I’d say you achieved showing over telling quite nicely. I didn’t notice a change of tense, but maybe I was too engrossed in the story.

    I did, however, notice that the narrator called the glass ‘half full’ twice. Was this coincidental, or was she still harboring a bit of hope for the situation?

    • I debated using half-full or half-empty, but I wanted to show she had hopes, perhaps misplaced, that Adam would come around. I wasn’t sure if I liked using the phrase twice like that, but it sounded weird without it. I didn’t put much thought into it as I was at work when I wrote it. I would probably take out the latter one if I ever revise, though I do like the idea of throwing a half-full glass at someone. NYAH! Take that optimism and EAT IT!

      Congratulations on making Resplendent comment #100 *throws confetti* Yay!

      • Yeah, I think it might’ve been the fact that it appeared twice that made me notice it. It didn’t seem weird to see it twice, the second one could’ve even been slightly sarcastic. It fits fine to me in either case.

        Really? I’m glad it was actually a fairly constructive comment, and not something random that got that glory.

  2. It’s an effective piece, as my former advanced fiction professors would insist I say. You can definitely feel the emotions through the actions: the restrained tone of voice, the restrained fingers holding the water glass, the hastily reordered deck of cards.

    I’m not sure about writing first person in present tense. I’ve tried it before to no avail, and I’m not acquainted with many stories written in it. Always worth a try, though this certainly succeeds in avoiding “I thought” and “I knew” in a way that keeps a reader from noticing they aren’t there.

    • Thanks for the input! I guess I read what I write so much, the repeated words stick out like a sore thumb in my eyes. That’s why we ask others to read it though, because it’s hard for us to read our own words with the eyes of a reader. Have you ever read something over so many times it no longer made any sense?

  3. Absolutely! All the time. Just yesterday, while my husband started reviewing for me, he pointed out that I changed tenses in a sentence and missed a verb in another within the first two pages. It’s incredible how easy it is to miss typos in my work yet I can pick out ones anywhere else. That is definitely why we ask others to read… no matter how hard that is. : )

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