1. jimr
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    jimr Member

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    Critique and Showing-Not-Telling questions

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by jimr, Oct 2, 2011.

    I sent a message to a monitor at another writing forum to make sure my polite non-detailed disagreement of a critique of one of my stories was acceptable. This monitor is also called a first reader for a paying webzine in her profile (I assume a first reader is the first person that views a story submission). This was her answer:

    {{Your response is fine, jimr. The only thing I would say is just some advice on receiving crits. When posting stories, you'll probably get a lot of comments that you may not agree with. Sometimes people can nitpick, and it's okay to defend your position on some of those things--but if it gets to the point where you feel that it's too much, a simple "thanks for your input" says enough.

    You can read and appreciate someone's time to comment on something, without having to agree with what they said. To get into a long debate about it, isn't always the best course, though. Ask a hundred people, and you'll get a hundred different opinions most of the time.}}

    It is the last sentence of her message which intrigues me: {{Ask a hundred people, and you'll get a hundred different opinions most of the time.}}

    I just don't get it, that a story could be subject to that many possible competent interpretations. I understand that the same story could be great for one audience, a young adult story for example which is great for teens and terrible for sophisticates, and bad for another. But I think things like PLOT, PACING, CULMINATION, THEME, DESCRIPTION, and DIALOGUE are fairly universal parts that are either good or bad within a story. I just don't get it! I'm not going to message the monitor again, not yet anyway, because other parts of her response seemed to indicate she might not appreciate it. Anyway, I just don't get it, and I would welcome opinion on this issue of prose interpretation.

    Further: The story in question from which all this arose contained this phrase: {{Her round cheeks were flushed salmon with anger.}}

    And the critiquer said this about it:

    {{Besides that it’s more telling and that you don’t really need it – “salmon” sounds too deliberate, like you’re trying too hard. Red would fine here – and more accurate. Salmon is the kind of word used to describe paint or fabric.}}

    My question about this is not regarding whether salmon is a good color to use or whether the sentence in my story is a good one. The critquer indicted 3 times in his review that vivid descriptive that I used was telling, and I took that to mean TELLING-NOT-SHOWING. My question regards the old adage SHOWING-NOT-TELLING. Am I not showing with a phrase like: {{Her round cheeks were flushed salmon with anger.}}
    I would think TELLING would be more simple like: HER FACED FLUSHED WITH ANGER.
    Again, I just don't get it! But I will eventually. I sure would appreciate help in getting there.
    Thanks
    Jim
     
  2. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    I do think that there can be many differing opinions on a story, and even specific parts such as description and dialogue. If you look through the writing workshop threads on here, many times critiques of the same piece will have different opinions on those things. Often I think it can be a matter of personal taste and preference of style, and also the fact that people may be more thorough in critiquing elements that they are strong at themselves, so one person may focus on grammar, another on dialogue etc.

    As for the showing vs telling, it's something I struggle to get my head around too. Perhaps showing would be getting into your character more, something like "she felt her face flush as the anger rose through her", or words to that effect? I'm really not sure :p
     
  3. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    Not sure what to tell you on the critique. Lots of people have lots of opinions. It's your job to decide which ones work best for you and which ones don't.

    For the show vs. tell... "Her face flushed with anger," to me, is not telling. Telling, imo, would be something like "The kid's remarks made her flush with anger." On one, you see her reaction and the story allows you, the reader, to explain it; the second gives only one possibility for the reaction and tells us what that is. "Her face flushed with anger" is also an active sentence, and "Her cheeks were flushed salmon with anger" is passive. I would say that salmon is probably not needed here, too...I guess there could be exceptions, but flushed is blushing and blushing usually accompanies the color of red or rosy pink...
     
  4. Laura Mae.
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    Laura Mae. Member

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    I don't agree with that person's critique about your story. It is unnecessary for people to nitpick on individual sentences in a critique - they'd be there all day. A critique should be well-rounded, not negative based on one specific part of the story. They might not like that line, fair enough, but that doesn't mean you have to listen and let their criticism get you down. Besides, the chances are you'll probably edit that out at some point so what's the issue?
     
  5. suddenly BANSHEES
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    suddenly BANSHEES Contributing Member

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    Gonna have to disagree with you there. Those are my favorite kinds of critiques to receive - if the wording of a sentence sounds weird, I want to know about it, however insignificant to the plot it may be. Style and word choice may not be as important as some of the other elements to a story, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay any attention to it, in my opinion. And the more negative a critique is, the more I feel like it helps me, so long as the person critiquing explains the reasons behind their criticisms.

    So long as they're not being rude about it, a negative critique shouldn't be taken as a personal attack. Critiques are meant to help, not discourage - if you choose to ignore them, that's your deal, but it's hard to improve in anything if you can't take a little criticism.
     
  6. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    The 'telling' part of the sentence isn't 'flushed red' or 'salmon', but 'with anger'. If you really want to avoid telling then you should not name the emotion whenever possible. Instead, detail the manifestation of that emotion.
     
  7. jimr
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    jimr Member

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    prettyprettyprettygood: I Googled SHOW-NOT-TELL and it seems that the simple explanation is not quite right. It's more complicated than just writing with visual images; haven't found a great explanation yet, but still looking. There are varied opinions on this too, I'm finding.
    Raki: The passive sentence {Her cheeks were flushed salmon with anger} was used after the woman turned around, though it might still be ill advised. Your input regarding a writer's responsibility to make desicions about critiques is well put.
    Laura Mae: I go with Banshees on the detailed analysis. I just had a story with children in it and mothers picked it apart, teaching why my kids and moms were not realistic. And criticism bad or good doesn't generally get me down. I'll be a successful writer in the future; the ruts and crests are just part of the trip.
    Banshee: Your attitude is great, and I'll look to find something you've posted here.

    To all, Thanks and I tried to post the story in question, THE LAW, but though I've been here long enough and made the required amount of posts I was not able to. THANKS!
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say that:

    "Her face flushed..."

    is showing and

    "...with anger."

    is telling.

    The flushed face is something that can be observed; saying "flushed" doesn't interpret for the reader. Telling us that the reason for the flush is anger, as opposed to exertion or embarassment or fever or heat, is interpreting for the reader.

    (OK, technically "she flushed" as opposed to "her cheeks were pinker" _is_ interpreting, but if a person abruptly changes their facial color, odds are they're flushing; there's a limit to how far we have to go go avoid interpreting for the reader.)

    Whether the flush is salmon or pink doesn't affect whether the sentence is showing or telling. I'm inclined to think that no color is needed - "flushed" is, IMO, sufficiently descriptive. If the goal is to say that the flushed skin is extremely brightly colored, "salmon" isn't telling me that.

    BTW, "Her cheeks were flushed salmon with anger." is not a passive sentence. "were flushed" is descriptive, rather like "The houses were green." is descriptive.

    ChickenFreak
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    aside from the color choice 'flushed salmon/red' is redundant and poor wording, period, since 'flushed' means 'turned some shade of red/pink'...
     
  10. dave_c
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    dave_c Active Member

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    I disagree, you can be flush a little or a lot with all sorts of shades, i used to have a friend who flushed purple. there are varying scales of being flushed hence the requirement for an adjective. also, why do you say it is poorly worded?

    Although personally i would have associated flushing salmon pink with an embarrassment, rose red with a love emotion and something like scolding red or crimson for anger.
     
  11. Timothy Giant
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    Timothy Giant Member

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    "Red" is poorer wording than "salmon", because show-don't-tell.

    Well, what it actually is, is that "salmon" is more elaborate than simply stating "red". With "Salmon", the reader needs to think (a little, but all small bits help).
     
  12. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    The difference between "green" and "flushed" is that "flushed" is working as a verb (past participle) in "her cheeks were flushed salmon..." It also begs the question, "by who?" or "who or what flushed her cheeks salmon?" It is passive. Now, if it was led by an article, "her cheeks were a flushed salmon," then it would be descriptive. It would also be descriptive if you removed "flushed" (Her cheeks were salmon...).
     
  13. jimr
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    jimr Member

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    The sentence is: {Her round cheeks were flushed salmon with anger} Anger flushed her cheeks. It is passive because of the word WERE. It would be active if written like this: {Her round cheeks flushed salmon with anger} Passive writing, from my recent research to eliminate from my own work, is simply a matter of using unnecessary words like WAS, THAT, HAD, and WERE. My source is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's webpage on passive writing on which is this: {form of "to be" + past participle = passive voice} They also mention that it's allowable to have some passive writing, and in this case the woman had just turned around and the MainCharacter is aware of her anger for the 1st time so it probably works to use passive form. I still don't claim this particular sentence is a good one, and as mentioned above SHOWING-NOT-TELLING may be more complicated than just visual description VS. non-visual writing; but I do feel at this point that the critique was wrong in identifying this sentence as Telling. I would over to find a webpage that explains SHOWING-NOT-TELLING in all it's permutations, so I can get the rules strsight in my mind.
     
  14. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    "Form of 'to be' + past participle = passive" is correct. I was merely making an observation with my first post and defending the statement with the second. Also, words like "had" and "that" don't fit into the equation for passive writing (although "had" is an auxiliary verb, it is not a form of "to be" and "that" is neither an auxiliary verb or a past participle). "Her cheeks had flushed salmon with anger" is not passive. And passive writing is definitely allowed (and sometimes recommended, depending on point of view, lack of information, relevance, clarity, etc.), though it is sometimes mistakenly coupled with telling in the dilemma of show vs. tell, which may be why your critique identified it as "telling." Again, to me, the sentence is not telling. You are showing her reaction. If you simply said, "She was angry" or "the boy made her angry," that would be telling. The addition of "with anger" to "she flushed with anger" is only identifying the flush. Not really different than saying, "She flushed salmon," though the latter leaves it open to many interpretations, especially without context (where one could label the salmon as a fish instead of a color, which I might also add is one complaint I have about using salmon as a color ... I see the word and think fish, but that's just me, I hope :)).

    However, there are also varying degrees of showing, in my opinion. A poor example, "Her teeth clenched together, and the muscles of her jaw etched a heated line across her rosy red cheeks." Something like this may "show" the anger more visibly than "Her cheeks flushed," and a lot more than "She was angry" ... if that makes sense? Basically, think of a way to display the fact that she is angry without specifically saying she is angry ...
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    > The sentence is: {Her round cheeks were flushed salmon with
    > anger} Anger flushed her cheeks. It is passive because of the
    > word WERE.

    "Were" only sometimes indicates passive voice. Let's ignore the question of whether "flushed" is being used as a verb or an adjective, and go to a straightforward adjective - "green". None of the following sentences is passive:

    - The houses will be green.
    - The houses are green.
    - The houses were green.

    The last sentence uses "were" to indicate the past tense - it does not make the sentence passive voice.

    ChickenFreak
     
  16. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    It needs the past participle to be considered passive. "The houses were painted green" is passive.
     
  17. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on the detail of the critique. A hundred people might well each have written it a different way, and all of those ways could be competent (if you choose the right hundred people), so if their comments are along the lines of "I'd have written it like this..." then you could easily get a hundred different opinions. What's more, each of them will have their reasons for preferring their way of writing, so they might even say things like, "yours is too X," because they perceive their way as being less X. So yes, a hundred different opinions can be right. And your (considered) rejection of them can be right too.

    As others have said, the "telling" part is the "with anger". What I haven't seen anybody mention yet (in this thread) is that telling is not always bad, and that good writing will always have a mix of showing and telling. The reason reviewers pick up on telling is that most novice writers tend to tell too much, so reviewers push in the direction of telling less and showing more. Don't let them push you so far that you fall over the other way, though: learn the effects of showing and telling, and learn how to use them well in a good balance. The same goes for active and passive sentences, by the way. There's nothing at all wrong with a well-used passive sentence, and the contortions people get into to avoid a perfectly good passive can be gruesome. Even worse is when the passive wasn't even there to be avoided! From the examples given, I would far rather read "her cheeks were flushed" than the contrived (and "telling"!) "anger flushed her cheeks", and "her cheeks were flushed" is not even passive. It's [possessive-pronoun] [noun] [verb] [adjective]. I can't believe that "flushed" is meant to be acting as the past participle of a transitive verb -- her cheeks are not toilets!

    ---------- Post added at 03:53 AM ---------- Previous post was at 03:46 AM ----------

    But, as I've implied in another post, it can sometimes be hard to tell a past participle from an adjective, and "Form of 'to be' + adjective = passive" is not correct. That means that it's easy to get misled into thinking something is passive when it's not, and it also means that in some cases there's no decisive answer: it's a judgement call whether the sentence is passive or not. The answer is not to get hung up on passive sentences. Just ask yourself whether what you've written is the best way of putting it, whether it's passive or not.
     
  18. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    That’s true to a degree. However, in the case of our sentence here, “Her cheeks were flushed salmon,” it does not apply. Uncountable nouns like “salmon” and “green” and “water” and so on do not have an indefinite article (a or an) preceding them (e.g., The house was green; her cheeks were salmon; there was water in the pit; etc.). They can have a definite article (the) preceding them (e.g., Try the sugar; Pass the water; Have you checked the mail?; etc.). Countable nouns, however, in their singular form use the indefinite and definite articles (e.g., There was a chicken crossing the road; it was a painting; she had a dimple on her left cheek; The chicken crossed the road; etc.). In plural form, they can go without or use the definite article (e.g., Chickens crossed the roads; etc.).

    With that said, adjectives modifying an uncountable noun can make it countable (e.g., a vibrant green; a cold wet; etc.). My point here is that using “flushed” as an adjective modifying “salmon” makes “salmon” countable and singular. Therefore, for it to be considered an adjective, it needs to be preceded with an article (i.e., “Her cheeks were a flushed salmon”). Otherwise, it works as a past participle.

    And I also wonder, for this particular word as an adjective, if it should be “Her cheeks were a flush salmon” since “flush” is the adjectival form and carries the same meaning as “flushed salmon” would. If so, it renders the complete debate over passive here useless. :)
     
  19. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think your logic works. "Can" is not "must"! And
    Her flushed cheeks and dilated pupils suggested that her drink had been spiked.​
    "Flushed" certainly is an adjectival form; the only issue is whether "flushed salmon" needs to be hyphenated or not ("Her flushed-salmon cheeks").

    Here's a test for a passive. If it's a long passive then after the "[noun phrase] [form of to-be] [past participle]" you have "by [noun phrase]". If it's a short passive then the "by [noun phrase]" is dropped, but you should be able to put it back. If you can't, it isn't a passive because there's no displaced agent. So "Bill flushed the toilet" becomes "The toilet was flushed [by Bill]". But what can you add to "Her cheeks were flushed"? "Her cheeks were flushed by blood"? No, it would be "her cheeks were flushed with blood". "Her cheeks were flushed by anger"? No, it would be "her cheeks were flushed with anger" (which is why I don't like "Anger flushed her cheeks"; anger is not the agent). It might be possible to find something to put after "by", but I can't see it being anything obvious (with the "salmon" there you could arguably have "her cheeks were flushed salmon by blood", but would anybody really write that?) so I reckon one can be pretty confident that "flushed" would be read adjectivally. You were right when you said that it raises the question "by who?" or "who or what flushed her cheeks salmon", but it seems you didn't realise the full implications of that. (It doesn't beg that question, by the way, but that's another thread.)
     
  20. topeka sal
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    topeka sal Senior Member

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    Yes! Thank you! I often see too much "Show-Don't-Tell" fetishism in critiques. It's not a rule; just one of many different and sometimes contradictory tools a writer or critic can consider. This, of course, is one of the things that makes writing a challenge: knowing when and how to tell/show. We could talk about it for ages, but it comes down to context in an individual work. A messy answer to be sure, but the writing process is messy.

    However, if a critic makes an issue of this it's a good idea to go back and at least consider what they say. You can take it or leave it, but it's good that you are exploring the possibility.

    As to the specific example given by the OP, I'd have to see it in context but as an isolated example I'd be inclined to go with "her cheeks flushed salmon" or simply "her cheeks flushed" (and, actually, I don't mind "Her cheeks were flushed") and then follow this with some other action or dialogue, such as, action: 'She slammed the book on the desk and left the room'. Or, dialogue: "How can you say that?", or "What do you know about it?" or whatever is appropriate. Just a thought!
     
  21. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    Show me ONE instance where you wouldn't use an article, determiner (pronouns fall under this as in "her flushed cheeks" and "her dilated pupils" and "her drink"), or quantifier before a SINGULAR countable noun. "Cheeks" and "pupils" are PLURAL countable nouns, and as such, they do not require an article, determiner, or quantifier. "Flushed cheeks and dilated pupils suggested that drink had been spiked" works because of that rule ("that" is the determiner for the singular, countable noun "drink"). I think if you do that you will find my logic not so far off with this particular issue. After all, you wouldn't say "The house was painted vibrant green" or "The house was painted flushed salmon." You would say "The house was painted a vibrant green (or a flushed salmon)" because tacking the adjective onto the uncountable words "salmon" and "green" make them both countable and singular.

    My point about using "flush" is that it is an adjective in that form (without the -ed) and means the same thing. "Flush salmon" means the same thing as "flushed salmon" if "flushed" is to be considered an adjective, so why would you tack the "-ed" ending to it? Basically, "Her flush cheeks and dilated pupils..." works just as well. Why change the word if it's unnecessary? It makes no sense to do so.

    And yes, that is a test for passive, but it by no means identifies all passive. Passive is the result of the equation we listed above and used for many reasons, one of which is because the writer, narrator, character, whomever telling the story doesn't know the "by who or what." They don't need to know; the reader doesn't need to know. It doesn't matter. That does not make the sentence any less passive. It is still using a form of "to be" and a past participle. It just cannot be identified as such as easily.
     
  22. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Wow this thread got stupid.
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Er -- yes I would.
    That's absolutely not true in British English, and I am surprised to hear that it is standard American English, although it wouldn't surprise me in some regional dialects.
    In British English, because you have to. In British English "flush" can be an adjective, but it's from a completely different root meaning level with a surface. I'd be interested to hear the views of other Americans on the situation on that side of the Atlantic.
    All I can say is that you are disagreeing with the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written English, which was the reference grammar for that portion of my English Language degree, and which I have checked on this subject. You might like to cross-check the textbooks you are working from, because this subject does seem to cause a lot of confusion. (I feel a blog entry coming on!)
     
  24. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    No, I'm finished arguing. I think we'll have to agree to disagree.

     
  25. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm American. (Childhood in Missouri and Tennessee.) I'm going to ramble at excessive length, though I'm not sure if I'll actually answer what you're asking. :)

    I would consider all of the following to be correct. In each one, I'm labeling the function of the "flush" word:

    Jane's cheeks started to flush pink as John told the story. (flush as a verb)
    Jane's cheeks started to flush as John told the story. (verb)
    When John told his story, Jane's cheeks flushed pink. (verb)
    Jane's cheeks were flushed pink as she listened to John's story. (adjective, though arguably there's some ambiguity here)
    Jane's flushed cheeks turned even brighter as John kept talking. (adjective)
    Jane's cheeks flushed vibrant pink as she listened to John's story. (verb)
    Jane's cheeks flushed a vibrant pink as she listened to John's story. (verb)
    John flushed the pitcher with water to clean out the last traces of milk. (verb)
    John flushed out the pitcher with water to clean out the last traces of milk. (verb; probably a more common American usage)
    The landscaper flushed the irrigation system for the winter. (verb)
    Jane told John to flush the pitcher with water. (verb)
    A flush of color was barely visible in the sky. (noun)
    John was flush with cash that day; he treated everyone at the bar to a drink. (adjective)
    John was flush that day; he treated everyone at the bar to a drink. (adjective)
    The table was flush with the windowsill. (adjective, but a quite different meaning.)


    I would not consider the following to be correct:

    Jane's cheeks were flush pink as she listened to John's story.

    ...though there's something tickling my brain, maybe a regional usage, as you suggest, that may follow this pattern.

    Then there's the "adjective that looks like a verb" issue. Switching to a different word:

    John took a polished watch out of his pocket to check the time. (adjective)
    John's watch was polished. (adjective or possibly verb; ambiguous)
    John's watch was polished and luxurious-looking. (adjective; less ambiguous)
    John's watch was green. (adjective)

    Switching back and creating analogous sentences:

    Jane's flushed cheeks turned even brighter as John kept talking. (adjective)
    Jane's cheeks were flushed. (adjective or possibly verb; ambiguous)
    Jane's cheeks were flushed and dirt-streaked. (adjective; less ambiguous)
    Jane's cheeks were pink. (adjective)


    Usage like the second case above seems to be the cause of much of the debate here, though I've seen people argue that even sentences like the fourth case are examples of passive voice. (And I emphatically disagree with them.)

    ChickenFreak
     

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