Saturday, September 7, 2013

Show and/or Tell

Hmmm so which should it be? Show? Tell? Both? When it comes to the gut of the story, telling is good. I mean, that's what we do, right? Tell stories? But when it comes to your characters, we need to switch to the visual. When you encounter someone, friend or stranger, on the street, the first thing you do is make a visual assessment. There are a ton of different things we notice when we do this, but one of the subliminal things is emotion. Is that person afraid? Happy? Angry?

There are several tells that give us a clue to this. A woman who is afraid but not wanting anyone to know it might have her arms crossed, maybe clutching her purse very close. She might also glance over her shoulder frequently and be walking hastily. A man might have many of the same tells. It's not likely he'll have a purse to clutch, but he might make fists instead. Think about it. What do you do when you're afraid?

Happy is pretty easy to tell. Grins are uppermost, a bounce in their stride might be another. Other than that, conversation could be chatty and possibly more bubbly than normal. Angry, might be nearly the opposite. A stomping stride, a stiff face, unwilling to talk about it, maybe unwilling to talk at all.

There are other things, but the point is you don't want to tell your reader that your character is afraid or angry, you want to show them, you want to involve your reader in your character's life, the closer the better.

Anything your character is feeling, be it an emotion or a physical issue needs to be shown. Talking about physical issues, let's say your character stubbed his toe. How long should you have him hobbling around? A stubbed toe might be rather minor but still, if you're going to introduce the injury, deal with it for an appropriate amount of time. If he or she is in a car wreck, it would be a much larger issue. Still, you don't tell of the accident and then overlook any of the physical repercussions, even if the character was able to walk away from the wreck, there would be bruises, maybe cuts. Maybe they don't need much attention, but really, at least an assessment is necessary, maybe an improvised bandage to keep blood from dripping all over whatever work needs to be taken care of before more practical care can be sought out.

So, while telling your story, don't forget to show us the things we cannot possibly know in any other way. Visual tells are vital to get your reader involved with your characters. For those of you whose characters are emotionless or highly controlled, this issue is also rife with tells. To tell us your character is hurt and then leave it at that is two dimensional and that character is then easily forgotten. If you can involve your reader in your character, earn their sympathy or even hatred, that is how your stories stay with your reader long after the cover is closed.

So do you tell? Show? Or do you do a liberal amount of both? I'm still learning. Tell me your secret.


Willow Drake said...

Excellent post! I haven"t thought about this before. I come from a theatre and film background so I am very visual but my stories are very dialogue driven because of that live theatre influence. This will definitely be on my mind as I write in the future. Thanks Anna!

William Kendall said...

I do try to lean towards showing.