Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Show VS Tell Handouts

Here are the handouts from the NJCWG meeting of 2/13/06. I hope they clarify the Show Vs. Tell issue even more. I'll post again a little while providing you with a few addtional practice exercises.
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Show, Don’t Tell Your Story
Workshop Preparation
by Louise Bergmann DuMont

Good writing is not about using big words...
Good writing is not about using more words...
Good writing IS about using words that soothe,
words that bite, words that entice words that motivate...
Good writing is about using the right words,
at the right time, and in the right way.

In this handout I’ve given you a few hints that will help you to turn telling writing into showing writing.

Choose your verbs carefully.
Use verbs that accurately reflect the character’s personality and the action taking place.

If your character is a burly Vietnam vet he may or may not lumber down the street.

Think about these things. Is your character drunk? Did he put on a significant amount of weight after he got home from the war? How old is he now? Does your story take place right after his return from Nam or much later? If he’s a young guy who is in good physical condition he probably won’t lumber. He might sulk, he might bolt, he might saunter – but lumber implies a slowness that that comes from an inability to walk due to inebriation, overweight or physical defect. Now... even if the guy was in good physical condition but he was carrying his drunk friend over his shoulders, he may lumber.

Your verbs move the story forward. Choosing the right one can make the difference between a story that ‘pops’ with life or one that is ready for the morgue.

Notice the differences in these sentences. It’s all in the verbs.
Bob walked down the street.
Bob went down the street.
Bob moved on down the street.
Bob strutted down the street.
Bob ambled down the street.
Bob slunk down the street.
Bob lumbered down the street.
Bob shuffled down the street.
Bob meandered down the street.
Bob rushed down the street.
Bob sauntered down the street.
Bob strolled down the street.
Bob marched down the street.
Bob strode down the street.
Bob paced up and down the street.
Bob hiked down the street.
Bob tottered down the street.
Bob staggered down the street.

Write using your five senses.

Pick senses that complement the circumstances of your scene and the personality of your characters. Applying a variety of senses to your scenes will keep your writing fresh and interesting. Applying the right senses to each scene will avoid awkward moments..

If our burly Vietnam vet (as per above example) arrives at a restaurant with his date you probably would not have him comment on the beautiful scent of the lilac bushes outside the restaurant door. If the scent of lilacs is an integral part of your story, you may have his date make a comment on lovely aroma, or you could have him note the almost sickeningly sweet smell. Notice that his date notices the lovely aroma but he smells the scent. Your choice of words unfolds the scene in a particular way. It allows us to SEE different aspects of the characters.

Here is an other hint – males are more visual and females more verbal. Be sure to at use those senses to describe environments related to their gender. A male’s secondary sense is touch and woman’s is scent. Both males and females can be intuitive but males are more likely to filter their ideas through practicality and women through emotion. This does not mean that males can not smell and verbalize or that female should never see or touch; but it is important that a writer use to their advantage the character’s primary senses.

Never show simply for the sake of description.
Showing must bring the reader something significant. It must open up the character’s life or impart vital plot information. To show the reader a table spread with luscious desserts – no matter how artfully done – is meaningless unless the desserts are significant to the story. To share details of a character’s past only frustrates the reader unless it gives depth to a person we want to know and/or moves the plot forward.

Don’t tell the reader what emotions are coming.

Let readers feel things for themselves. When you tell a reader what to feel, you rob them of the actual event
and you take them out of the story.

In a totally unexpected move, Mary slapped her husband, turned on her heels and walked out.
The crack of her hand against his unshaven cheek burned its way into her palm. She turned on her heels, tears changing the soft blue-gray of her eyes into small beads of polished steel.

Showing is about clarifying what you want to say.
When you tell (rather than show) you leave the reader unsure about what the author really meant.

The woman was impressed with the well-dressed man.

How impressed was the woman? What feelings did the well-dressed man inspire in her? How impressed was she? Would she have given him the job as a VP? Would she go out with him? Would she marry him? Was man well-dressed for a Caribbean cruise? Was he wearing a wool and cashmere suit? Were his clothes designer chic or pristinely pressed K-Mart?

Details help to make a story – just be sure to keep the details pertinent.

Feel the action and play it out on the paper.
Telling catalogs action. Showing allows the reader to see the actions and the emotions contained in the event. It is the difference between a laundry list and the actual laundry.

“Let’s Go.” Mary said impatiently
The click of Mary’s heels on the marble floor followed the snap of Mary fingers and a curt, “Let’s Go!”

Showing is not JUST details.
A grocery list may give plenty of details about the items you want to purchase. It may give the brand, size, weight, color, flavor, etc. But a grocery list is still just a list telling us what to buy. Good writing shows us what the purchaser is feeling.

Grocery List (TELLING)
4 Large, Ripe, Chiquita Bananas
1 box Kellogg’s Special-K, Small Box
Coffee – Bed & Breakfast, Whole Bean

Quality Narrative (SHOWING)
The four plump bananas fairly begged to join the rich mixture of brown sugar and butter, in what would become my lover’s sweet birthday banana bread.

Special-K. I bought the small box, hating myself for second guessing the potential of this diet already. What was so ‘special’ about Special-K anyway? A bowl of soggy flakes that you drown in week old milk – nothing special about that.

Each gently roasted bean had been ground to a perfect course grain. The scalding hot water allowed precious oils to rise to the surface of the cup. I sipped it like ambrosia – the acidic bite popping my eyelids open and refreshing my weary soul.

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