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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Show and tell

One of the hardest things for a new writer to learn is when to show and when to tell.



Most of the time, you want to show things happening in real time as this makes the reader feel like they are part of the action. However, there are sometimes, when you do have to have narrative summary, simply to move the pace of the story. In other words, the reader needs to know certain things, but they are not that important and do not have to be shown in real time.

Now when you are writing your first draft, it is perfectly okay to tell. For example, you might say she felt unhappy. Later you go back and revise sentence, mainly because you want the reader to be able to assign the emotion.
So perhpas She felt unhappy could Even the weather seemed to echo her mood, going from the brilliant sunshine to this afternoon's dull and dank mist. It was as if all the brightness and light had been sucked from the earth, leaving only the greyness behind.
Or The anticipation at the morning's post faded as she sifted through the unasked for catalogues, magazines from the previous occupant and brown enveloped bills. Nothing. Not even one solitary card on her birthday.

Basically you are trying to Resist the Urge to Explain. RUE. The reader should be able to get the emotion from the text.
Actually if I added She felt unhappy at the end, I would diminish the impact of the paragraph, because I am explaining/repeating something that I have already shown the reader. You want the image to have the greatest impact, so the reader can assign the appropriate emotion.You have to trust the reader to get it.

Sometimes the action is redundant. She felt her shoulder give way can be rewritten as Her shoulder gave way. She heard the bell chime can be The bell chimed. Words like felt, heard, saw, thought can decrease the immediacy of the scene. Try to find ways of eliminating them and retaining the meaning.

The sentence in the first draft She saw a man striding through the woods. can become A twig snapped.Then another. She froze, turned her head, waniting to crouch down and hide but equally needing to know what was out there. Her heart pounded in her ears as the large shape lumbered towards her.

The same goes with adverbs tags after said. The redear should be able to get the emotion from the words or from the physical beat.
'I can't believe you said that!' she said in astonishment.
Could be "I can't believe you said that!' or
'I can't believe you said that!' She leant forward, her eyes widened and her lips parted as if she was urging him to tell her more. To impart all his secrets.

Sometimes, adverb tags do work and they help the story to flow. It is when they become a crutch that it becomes a problem. I will look at physical beats tomorrow.

What you can trying to do with showing the reader is to create an intimacy and immediacy that forces the reader to turn the page.
If you find sections of the first draft where you are do a lot of showing, asked --why. How can you up the tension. Is this really needed? Or can you simply jump cut to another scene. Each word you use describing something means a word you can't use else wehere. For example, with my latest wip. I have exactly 75k to play with. If I spend 1,000 words describing how the heroine fixes her hair in the morning, it is 1,000 less words that I have to spend on a thrilling action scene. Personally I think the reader would prefer to read the high tension action, rather than the twists in a hairdo.
So thinking like a director can help.

Right I need to write my first draft which will have lots of telling because I want to my images down. Then I go back and revise.Layer to make something better, and to make it my own.

3 comments:

Donna Alward said...

Dear readers of Michelle's blog:

If I had a nickel for every time Michelle put "RUE", "Physical beat" and "Emotional beat" in my manuscripts, I wouldn't need royalties. It doesn't happen that much anymore, I got tired of the whip marks.

So listen to her. She's absolutely right. It changed the way I wrote and improved my writing immeasurably. I read this entire blog nodding my head. Think of it as camera shots helps when it comes to those heard, felt words. It distances the reader from the action. Put it in concrete, present form and it comes alive.
Sincerely,

Michelle's CP

liz fenwick said...

Michelle, great post and timely words as I am reworking a first draft. THANK YOU!!!

Ginger Simpson said...

Thank you so much for sharing. This was very helpful. I'll be checking back for more helpful hints.

Ginger