As they walked up the steps of the porch they looked at the huge house. The large windows were covered in dust and mud and most of them showed large cracks. The porch roof was trimmed with overly-fancy woodwork that included carvings of angels, devils, several trees, apples, and an assortment of elephants. The three-story house was imposing enough, but the large dragon sitting on the chimney added something extra, even if it was just an old weathervane. The large wooden front door was closed and looked like it hadn’t been open in a very long time.
Not bad…but now this…
He stopped in front of the first step to the porch.
“What’s the matter?”, Carla said. “Chicken?”
“No,” Ryan said. “Thought I saw something in that window.”
“The one above the door. Two windows up.”
“Give me a break,” she smiled. “As dirty as those things are you couldn’t see anything even if those curtains weren’t behind them. Come on.”
The old board creaked as Carla stepped on it. Ryan stopped again. She turned and saw him looking up.
“What now?” she said as she glanced up where he was staring.
She shook her head.
“It’s a weathervane, not a real dragon, you idiot,” she said.
“I’m not looking at the weathervane,” Ryan said. “I’m looking at those carvings on the roof. I mean, angels and devils and trees and apples? Kind of strange isn’t it?”
“And elephants,” Carla said. “Yeah, I think strange might cover it. There’s no accounting for taste. Now come on and let’s see if we can get the door open.”
“From the cobwebs, I don’t think it’s been opened for a while,” he said. “Maybe we should just forget about it.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” she said. “If we can’t get it open we’ll look around back for another way in. We’ve come all this way to do this, now come on and get up here.”
As she reached for the large wooden door Carla felt the boards give-way under her feet.
The same scene, but a very different experience for the reader. And for me, that idea of “experience” is the secret to that old saying we keep hearing that a writer should “show and not tell”. But rather than keep that “show and not tell” phrase, I think the phrase “experience and not read” does a better job of explaining my goals for my writing.
I want my reader to do a lot of the work in a story!
My goal is to give my reader just enough information to allow them to step inside the story and then let them use their imagination to crawl around and see what they find happening. The more I tell them, the less their imagination is involved and the less they truly experience. When that happens, in my view, I have failed as a storyteller.
This year I am going to use my blog (and other things) to say a lot more about the idea of “experience, don’t read”, and describe many of the tools and activities I use to make sure my stories are as “experienceable” (is that a word?) and “unreadable” as possible.