The movie above, which hopefully you can play, shows how Ronald Reagan knew when to cut back on wordiness and put some imagery in his dialogue. From the applause, “The Great Communicator” did pretty well.
I struggle with this in my writing, cutting down on the wordiness and putting more visuals into it. Sometimes “show don’t tell” is good advice, but sometimes not, but with me, most times it helps.
Let me tell you the story of being asked to teach the kids in church when I was young. The parable of the ten virgins was this week’s topic I was to teach. The week before, I had another subject to talk to the kids about, but I presented it on a college level. The regular teacher said she had difficulty understanding what I was saying and said that perhaps something visual would be better understood by both kids and teachers alike. So I thought, how could I turn this into something visual for the kids.
Here is the parable, and I will tell you what I did:
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open up for us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’ Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
There were only five kids in the class, so I bought five flashlights and enough batteries. One of the flashlights had one of two batteries removed from it by me. Turning off the lights I commenced to tell the parable of the ten virgins paraphrased and simplified for the kids. After telling the parable, I told the kids to turn on their flashlights since we will shortly be taking a walk to another part of the classroom in the dark with our flashlights lit.
What happened next, I did not expect. I don’t think I ever heard a kid cry so loud as the kid with the missing battery in their flashlight. The other kids refused to give her a battery from their flashlight. The whole church listened to the cry. I felt another failure to add to the previous week.
During the church service, the minister asked, before his sermon started, if anybody had anything to say about the parable studied by both children and adults. From some pew on the left far side of the church near a stained glass window where the light from outside was illuminating a scene from Christ’s life, a tiny tot was shouting something. The child was so small the parent had to position her on top of where she sits to be seen. The child said, “I want to be ready for Jesus,” and something about her flashlight which I had given her—I also supplied her the missing battery. She said more, but I can’t remember it being so long ago. The minister had a lot to speak concerning the parable for his sermon, but nothing quite equaled the simplicity and power of a simple message from a child with a flashlight.
So in the movie above Reagan summed up everything he had to say in one particular thing everyone could relate to—a wall. If you lived during that time those words would still be in your head today. They were hard to forget.
My example from church relates itself to writing because all the wonderful prose without particular concrete examples—to show, not tell—is what I need in my writing and which I am attempting to achieve.