Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

How Can You Write About Things You Can’t See?

Books are full of love. But love is something you can’t see. Oh, sure, love-making can be seen and endearing acts of love are visible but love itself is one of many human qualities in the invisible realm of experience.

How about Justice, Peace, Loathing, Frustration, Faith, Perseverance, Honesty, or Hope…?

I wager you saw at least a fleeting glimpse of some human action in your mind for a number of those words.

As I wrote them, frustration made me see myself, dealing with a service tech on the phone, trying to get them to admit that their company just might be part of the bandwidth problem I was having. But the frustration itself was invisible–only its effects could be seen, only what it was doing to me could be written down.

The tightening of my neck muscles, the racing of my heart, as I tried to control my frustration; the words I said to the tech: “Look, you said you have bandwidth limits for the different plans.” My voice was getting louder, my tone deeper. “Doesn’t that mean you have control of the bandwidth?”

I won’t continue the example because just writing about it is bringing the frustration back :-)

There’s a “rule” of writing you’ve probably heard: show don’t tell. Well, there are a huge boatload of human feelings and qualities that could never be shown even though authors thrill and chill us with their ability to show the effects of our invisible virtues and vices.

Many writers use music while they’re writing, some to set a mood they need to get into their zone, some to cause a mood they want on the page.

Since music and writing share many powers to reveal our invisible lives, I’m going to give you two links. I want you to have them because of the hope I hold for our embattled world, so deranged with crisis and grief–the hope that is humanity’s only salvation–lives in the hearts of our Youth.

Venezuela has a secret. They’re ensuring the peace and security of their future by teaching their children to create orchestral music.

I hope the video of The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra, high-schoolers who give adult musicians sweet chills of respectful love, will let you feel a bit more hope for our sore-tried human family.

Music is supreme at making us feel the invisible strengths lying within our souls.

Writing is supreme at showing us those virtues in action.


If you watch the video, I’d *Love* to hear your response in the comments :-)
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5 responses to “How Can You Write About Things You Can’t See?

  1. Simone Benedict January 12, 2011 at 1:39 am

    I’ve heard about the orchestras. I’m going to check out your links when I get time.


  2. Chloe January 24, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Don’t show – tell…yes, that’s true and apparently what a good writer achieves.

    However, I believe that it’s easy to write about things we cannot see (like the words you listed) because we can FEEL the emotions that we associate with them. Plus, we can use our imagination. It also helps if we can empathise with others as, a lot of what we write in fiction hopefully will not be about ourselves (for example, I wrote a poem about a ghost…and I’m definately NOT a ghost…yet)! :D

    Hope you have a great day xx


    • Alexander M Zoltai January 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm

      You said: “Don’t show – tell…” and that’s definitely a solution for explicating those abstract virtues/vices that seem to only be manageable on the page by showing their effects on our physical selves.


      Just for the thrill of it, I went and did a search on “Tell don’t show” and Google came through with this site that says: “…if we showed everything, our novels would run tens of thousands of pages — and readers would die of exhaustion.” It goes on to explicate “narrative” vs “exposition” :-)


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