Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Writing Unreasonableness

A few weeks ago when my husband and I moved into our new house, the furnace wasn't working so we built fires in the wood stove. I found myself singing the song written by Shel Silverstein, called "Put Another Log on the Fire."

So naturally I thought about this man, this clueless character who's singing the song. And I pondered what other characters might think of him, and how they'd react. Check out these lyrics:

by Shel Silverstein
sung by Waylon Jennings & Tompall Glaser

Put another log on the fire
Cook me up some bacon and some beans
Go out to the car and change the tire
Wash my socks and sew my old blue jeans.

Come on baby, you can fill my pipe and then go fetch my slippers
And boil me up another pot of tea
Then put another log on the fire, babe
And come and tell me why you're leaving me.

Now don't I let you wash the car on Sunday
Don't I warn you when you're gettin' fat
Ain't I a gonna take you fishin' with me someday
Well, a man can't love a woman more than that.

Ain't I always nice to your kid sister
Don't I take her driving every night
So sit here at my feet 'cause I like you when you're sweet
And you know it ain't feminine to fight.

So put another log on the fire…

The link to this song if you want to hear it--is HERE.
Showing and Not Telling
If such a character were found in a novel, this song (probably as dialogue) would be a perfect example of showing and not telling about his personality. His chauvinistic, unreasonable, clueless words say it all. There's no need for another character or the narration (i.e., the author) to label him that way. The lines end up conveying exactly the opposite of what is being said, even though the man in question seems to believe it wholeheartedly.

Character Viewpoints
What's nice about this example is that we can get a glimpse of this man's inner reasoning and viewpoints. It gives reasons--even if seen as obnoxious to others--why he thinks the way he does. For instance, fishing is a wonderful thing in his eyes, and he's offering to take his woman with him on a fishing trip (or at least he claims that intent). What sacrifice and devotion! And his idea of femininity is a docile woman, one who works hard to make his life comfortable, one who doesn't complain. He sees a man as being the "king of his castle."

Obviously, this man and his woman have opposing personalities, goals, and intentions. He's expecting her to continue to wait upon him hand and foot, and she's finally fed up with it. This is an excellent opportunity for conflict at the point of change. They have opposing viewpoints and goals. The clash makes for good writing and reading material.

Have you heard this song before, or read Shel Silverstein's Where The Sidewalk Ends?
Do you think this is a caricature or are some people really this earnestly chauvinistic?
Have you written an unreasonable character, and were you able to Show rather than Tell that quality?


  1. I love the Shel Silverstein books, Carol. Unfortunately, my experience is that there are still people who are that chauvinistic - they just know better than to open their mouths too often!

  2. I love your points about showing versus telling. This really is a brilliant example of that, isn't it? Thanks so much for sharing it.

  3. love how this song inspired your post. I didn't realize Shel Silverstein had written something like this. What a discovery!


  4. So cool that you moved into your new home. Exciting, even given the little bumps.

  5. Sadly, I'm afraid there are still too many men who think like this. And did you catch the line about the little sister? Hmm, I think whoever she his has lots of reasons to leave.

  6. Hi, Carol,

    Yes, in my second novel the mc's dad is a maniac. IT SHOWS in all his actions. A military man gone insane....

    Not familiar with the songs though. But the lyrics DO SAY A LOT!

  7. Ahh, this song reminds me of an experience I had once people watching. It was priceless.

  8. I think there are a few of these chauvinistic creatures still in the world today. LOL!

  9. Oh, wow. I've gotta believe this song is sung as a joke. And man, if fighting isn't feminine, I'm up a creek :) I can live with that...

  10. I've read Where the Sidewalk Ends, and I think Silverstein does a great job with different characters throughout his writing. Unfortunately, I do think there are a few men out there like this . . .and a few women who don't leave them.
    And I'm still working on the showing vs. telling thing.

  11. Ha, I love that song! What a catch. I didn't remember this one, which is strage because I've read these books so many times. I like how you used it as an example for writers.

  12. I had heard that song, but I'd never listened to the lyrics properly before. lol, you've opened my eyes!

    Showing, rather than telling, is always harder, but the end result is so much better!

  13. It's been a very long time since I've read any Silverstein. There might be a few men out there like this, and I hope there's some wonderful twist at the end for him!

  14. Opposing viewpoints is a great way to add conflict. What a cute song!

  15. Great post and wonderful way to illustrate showing versus telling, Carol! The lyrics gave me many insights into that man... while grinding my teeth. : )

  16. Ha! It's a great example--I love dialog that shows how deluded someone is and how clearly THEY don't see it.

  17. Shel Silverstein has such great poems. I liked how you used it to illustrate your point.

  18. I've never heard the song before, though I have read Where the Sidewalk Ends. And yes, I think there are some people who are that chauvinistic. :P

  19. Using a song - it's nice way to talk about writing. You did a good job.

  20. What a lovely way to show a writing example! I hadn't seen this poem/song before, though I've read Where the Sidewalk Ends. I think it's always a wonderful thing if an author can reveal different facets or nuances of a character through voice alone. I'm still working hard on mastering this!

  21. I do know Sidewalk, but never seen or heard the song before. Love how you broke it down. If we have full characterization, it should be obvious, just like this.

  22. That is a great example of writing, although I think I want to hit the guy. LOL! I've never read Where the Sidewalk Ends. I should remedy that one of these days. :)

  23. Nope, haven't heard the song before, but that guy needs his head examined. Great character analysis using his point of view.

  24. I know of the song, but only by its first line. I had no idea of the words that follow! But you're right, it is an excellent example of showing and not telling.

  25. I had not read this piece in all it's entirety before but what a great way to show examples. Great character analysis!


  26. I love that book! My favorite poem is Cynthia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out.

  27. Wow, you got a lot out of that one song! But you make great points. It's definitely a great example of showing not telling - I disliked him immediately. :)

    I love Shel Silverstein, I had a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends when I was a kid, and I got my kids one when they were little. There aren't that many books that I remember from my childhood that my children also have.

  28. Cute poem. I wonder if anyone teaches him a lesson.

  29. I never heard the song or read the poem. So it was a pleasant intro.


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