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23 April 2009 @ 08:04 pm
Show, Don't Tell – But What Does That Really Mean?  
I was thinking about how I've heard "Show, Don't Tell" as a mantra for writers over and over again, and yet it comes through as white noise somehow for me. What does SHOW mean? I know I'm supposed to do it. But how?

I want to write. I have stories pounding in my head constantly to get out. But I don't know if I'm telling or showing or if I'm even labeling stuff right.

Which made me think about the whole labeling thing. Which made me think maybe one way to go is to take the labels off.

Maybe showing is deliberately NOT labeling stuff.

Maybe the idea is to keep the reader guessing.

"Hm…I think Sam's upset here. Yes, I see a tiny clue in his behavior! He is upset. But how upset? Oh, look, and here's another tiny clue. Ah-hah! He's upset because his brother is going into danger without him. Sigh. Poor, Sammy." That way the reader wants to move forward to get confirmation of what they're guessing Sam's feeling, rather than stopping the desire to find out more by just giving the answer. "Sam was angry."

Maybe it's just a matter of taking out the names of emotions and swapping them for little clues.

For Example (Supernatural):

Sam looked angrily out the window. (Tell)

Sam looked out the window his jaw tight. (Show)

Only difference is swapping out the actual word naming the emotion.

Then the context this sentence is written in, what's going on before and after it, gives us the rest of the clues on what emotion Sam's feeling.

For example, if just a sentence earlier Dean growled, "Don't, Sam. Just don't. I'm doing this and you're staying safe this time." Then the reader has a good guess as to why Sam is clenching his jaw and what he's feeling rather than having it identified by name.

Okay, that's my guess as to what Show vs. Tell is, to just UN-label stuff. That's my new mantra. Don't Label The Emotion Give A Tiny Clue Instead.

Does anyone else have something they use like that?

No? Yes?

I bet I shouldn't even start on how I get adverbs and adjectives mixed up too, huh?

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mrwubbles (aka Yuma): Snoopy WIPmrwubbles on April 24th, 2009 04:02 am (UTC)
Does anyone else have something they use like that?

Props. I tend to use them as liberally as I use the word "that".

Describing the emotion via physical clues tend to be tricky for me, especially in a long story (which of late, I tend to lean towards). There's only so many adjectives you can use before you repeat them. It's unavoidable. At least for me.

Using a prop to receive the action, I find, really helps me focus the action, toy it to be subtle rather than overdramatize the character through his actions. Words snapping, fist making feels/reads more dramatic if the action was directed towards...let's say, maybe Dean's amulet: twisting the string round and round the finger which saying he doesn't care, or Sam writing in his journal as his dad lectures him about hunting and along the nargins of his recount in hunting the hodag, there are math equations he's been trying to memorize for a math test he knows he'll probably never take because there's a black dog two towns over that needs to be dealt with.

I think one of the BEST writers of prop usage as a way to propel the plot is Aaron Sorkin. Really. I was rewatching West Wing and the episodes just jump with prop play (I don't know if there's a name for this but there you go). Oh, there are loads of examples I can pull, one off the top of my head is the Portland trip one. 80% of the episode is conduced on the prop which was the plane. As it was inflight, hih above, it mirrored everyone's "hey, we're doing a great job" mood but as it began circling, so is everyone else's tasks and as frustration grew to a sense of failure, the plane descends, but no one outright says it. They comment on the plane, express concerns but ONLY on the plane. Yet the plane, becomes our town crier, letting the viewer know even if the characters won't admit it even to themselves...