Ah, that famous chicken, the one that crossed the road! We never really find out why it did what it did. The author of this little quip never tells, and we, as writers, should be able to sympathize with him or her for we are told over and over again, “Show, don’t tell…”
So, where does this leave us? If only we knew how our feathered friend crossed the road; at least then we could infer the cause. If we can’t be told why, then dare we ask how? How did the chicken cross the road?
A few highly descriptive verbs for walking could help us out:
The chicken padded across the road.
The chicken shuffled across…
The chicken sauntered…
But, these confreres from the Overused Terms for Walking Club (don’t think I can take one more character padding across a room) would only help a bit. Maybe, a good metaphor would work: crossing the road, the chicken was a ball bearing in a pinball machine.
Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to have a more complex sentence to sort the whole thing out:
The chicken puffed her breast feathers, applied red gloss to the edges of her full, voluptuous beak, and languidly crossed the road.
With the attaché case still cuffed to her leg, it hidden beneath her wing, the chicken trod across to the other side, her eyes fixed intently to the pavement.
The chicken, gaunt and weak, pecked at the pebbles strewn by the curb, stopping only to crane her thin neck towards the opposing curb before crossing like a zombie to the other side.
Why did the chicken cross the road?
Was she the barnyard harlot, looking for a good time? Was she a secret agent, a bird on a mission, or perhaps just a fowl in need of food? Alas, we will never know. We are not told how, just somewhat why.
You may be wondering; what can we take from all of this?
Should we show or tell the reader? Should we use expressive verbs, figurative language or any particular literary devices? Yes, sometimes, and no, for each piece, each paragraph, each sentence, situation or voice dictates the choices we make. It’s like the joke that falls flat or hits its mark; it all comes down to timing, and timing is innate, nurtured within as we practice our craft. The prose becomes part of us, the timing perfected, as we pick up our pen and cross the road to write, over and over and over again like, (forgive me, just one more time) like the chicken.
Then again, sometimes a chicken crosses the road just to get to the other side.
Editors Note: Why do YOU think the chicken crossed the road? Let’s have some fun! Share your best shot below!
Michael Suppa is an elementary school writing teacher in Ellwood City, Pa. He also has presented professional development programs on writing and portfolio assessment. He received his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Wilkes University under the mentorship of Dr. J. Michael Lennon.