“Good morning class. We need to get right down to business. I graded your homework papers yesterday and discovered a plague worse than the Black Death.”
Stunned silence filled the room, followed by a nervous twitter.
“Are you saying that we’re all sick?”
“I’ll say. I’ve never seen it this bad either.”
“Well, what is it? What have we got?” Sarah said.
Professor Mac pursed his lips, shook his head and closed his eyes. “Languid Cellulite Digititus,” he whispered.
“Oooh, I’m so scared…I can’t believe this… You belong in a circus.”
“You should be scared Brian, you’ve got the worst case. Inspect your fingertips.”
As if guided by an invisible force, every student turned their hands palm up and stared.
“This is stupid. I don’t see anything.”
“That’s what makes this so deadly; it only appears when you strike the keys on your laptop-“
“I get it” Merlin said. “This has to do with writing.”
Professor Mac gazed at the class with a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face. “Let’s analyze this mysterious malady. If we understand it, we can treat it.”
He went to the black board, grabbed a piece of chalk and began writing.
Brian is bored.
“You ruined my surprise,” David said angrily.
“I’m sorry,” she said, trying to sound contrite.
He dropped the chalk on the tray and dusted his hands as he faced a sea of questioning eyes.
“These are all examples of Languid Cellulite Digititus.”
“I’m not sure what that is, but you’re right on with that first one.”
“Why do you say that, Jessica?”
“Well, look at Brian. Legs stretched out, books closed, head bent, eyes half closed. His only contribution is sarcasm, he-“
“Hey, that’s enough Miss Prissy. At least I’m not teacher’s pet.”
“All right Brian. Let’s not start name calling.”
“Yeah right. She can say what she wants about me, but I can’t defend myself.”
“Nice try… Can anyone give me a technical term for Jessica’s description?”
“Body language,” Scott said.
“Bingo. Give that boy a cigar.”
“I don’t smoke sir…but what does all this have to do with that Digititus stuff?”
Professor Mac picked up a piece of chalk and pointed it toward Scott. “How about I write it in simple English?”
He turned to the blackboard and wrote - Lazy Fat Fingers.
“I’m going to divulge a confidential secret known only to the best writers. If this leaks out, I could get fired.”
He stiffened his back, took a deep breath and closed his eyes, and whispered, “Readers are not dumb…they don’t want every detail… they want to use their imagination.”
“That’s it? That’s the big secret.”
Professor Mac sighed. “Yes Brian… Let’s say I was writing a story about this class. The easy, lazy way is to say ‘Brian is bored’ i.e., Languid Cellulite Digititus. What if I included bits and pieces of his body language when I mention him?”
“I get it. The reader would draw her own conclusion without you having to actually say it,” Jessica said.
“Correct. Now let’s look at the next sentence on the board – ‘You ruined my surprise,’ David said angrily. Here, the author is telling us that David is angry. Why not use body language to show it? Try this.
“I am not.”
“Don’t tell me that. I know you are. What’s wrong?”
“Oh, so now you know what I’m thinking.”
“Look, you’ve got that owl like glare, your body is rigid and you’ve clamed up.”
“Okay you got me… you ruined my surprise.”
“What? How did I-“
“I slaved all day over that birthday cake to make it special for you. Yet, when you walked in with your friends you made a big joke of it.”
“Oh, David… I’m so sorry… I didn’t mean-“
“Now who’s lying?”
“Look me in the eye and say you’re sorry.”
“Okay, I’m sorr-“
“Stop. I said look me in the eye.”
In this scenario, the characters, not the author, conveyed the emotions of anger and forced contrition. Which do you think readers would prefer?”
Tom half raised his hand and said, “The second one?”
“Thanks Tom, but it was a rhetorical question. Anyway, your assignment for tomorrow is to exercise those lazy, fat fingers and write a story using body language to convey emotion. I’ll scrutinize each one for Languid Cellulite Digititus, so put some time and effort into it. Class dismissed.”
I enjoyed this example of a writing class. As matter of fact it seems like one I was sitting in a few dozen years ago.We were taught to use the Thesaurus to find new word to use when our usual pattern of speech failed us in our descriptions. The comparisons you used on the blackboard were very good and were helpful to get your point across to new writers. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.