Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Comment Question on Showing and Telling

In the comments from my last post, Camille asked a question and it's one that is meaningful enough to answer here. Camille indicated that she helps herself notice if she's telling rather than showing by noticing if she is drawing a conclusion for her reader. She knows she is showing when she allows them to draw the conclusion. With this in mind, here's her question:

What about when a character draws a conclusion, either in inner monologue, or through dialogue? Whether they're right or wrong about what they percieve? Like this line:
His smile faded. "No, no." He was a bad liar. (through another character's pov)
He may or may not be lying, but his actions tell the second character that he is. It is her perception of what she's seeing. Is that still telling?

My response:

Let me not lead anyone astray. First, although we all know that showing the scene is best, telling work, on occasion, in a variety of situation and is needed. If you're using a transition paragraph, getting from one place to another in a scene, you don't need a blow by blow description of the trip. Inthis case telling works. Within five minutes, Joe had made his way through the heavy traffic to the cafe. Readers don't want to drive the five minutes with Joe describing what he sees. Sometimes we use these scenes for introspection, and although I do this at times, the techniques has become somewhat of a clique in writing.

So don't fear some telling. When it's not important to know details but you need the paragraph to move the character from one location to another or to set up a dramatic scene, then tell but make it short and get on with the action.

Finally to Camille's questions:
In introspection, authors have the prerogative to draw conclusions in a character's thoughts whether the conclusion is right or wrong, because this is what real people do. They try to second guess what's going on, and they sometimes get it right and sometimes not. It is a technique to deepen characterization by pointing out the character's fears and flawed judgment, and most important, it helps to create conflict. When a character relates to another based on misjudgment, then problems can result. Think of situations in your own life when you misread someone's intentions. Misjudging creates tension in real life and in fiction, and tension is the driving force in a story.

A good writer uses every means of making characters three-dimension and real, so never fear using any technique that allows you to deepen characterization and make your characters come to life. Everyone make mistakes. Allow your characters to do the same.


Camille Cannon (Eide) said...

Thank you for your anwers and your thoughts on this! There is so much to know about showing/telling! I appreciate your points about when to tell and when not to. Still working on that one.

My biggest problem at the moment is how to make a weekend when the H&H are stuck together that includes 5 hours in a car - twice - pass with the right amount of showing/telling. I need to create the various tensions I have in mind, raise stakes and insert some important backstory during this 'get acquainted' time between them. It's a tough one to know how & when to slow it down, rachet it up and move it forward.

I think the reader needs to get a feel for the time spent yet without it dragging. I need to allow time for the H&H's tension and relationship to develop during this time stuck together. The drive takes place one morning, they spend the entire day together, then a return trip the next evening (with a stop for a very tense visit with her dad, and another stop for an impulsive hug that he quickly regrets.)

So I wonder about how to move things along here. It's definitely two days that are shown in detail. I planned for it to be a good chunk of the story, because it's important. But I know there would need to be parts that are summarized, or the weekend could be an entire book.

Thank you so much for what you give here, Gail!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Camille - I've created another blog entry and will put it up tonight. We're leaving the morning for 6 days in Florida so I won't be doing much on the computer during that time -- if anything, but you'll have my response tonight.