Saturday, November 26, 2011

scene and summary/ show and tell

BAD WRITING ADVICE #9--always show and never tell.
Shouldn't be listened to. Really, can't be listened to. Every novel has some showing and some telling. First, there's the summary that comes between scenes, the telling that gets characters from scene to scene and summarizes events that would be tedious for the reader to experience. Sometimes this might be moving from place to place or having a person get ready for school or work or any number of things that don't need to be shown. Then there is description. Then there is backstory. I'm sure there are others, but the point is clear. Things have to be told. Here's the important part: THE WRITER HAS TO SELECT WHAT SHOULD BE SUMMARIZED and TOLD and WHAT SHOULD BE SHOWN IN SCENES. Pick right and the novel will feel balanced and will move without feeling thin. Pick wrong and--well, not good.

But there is also showing and telling within scenes. Here you should mostly show because you're trying to make the reader experience what the characters are experiencing. However, there will be times where some kind of analysis or explanation will enhance a scene. So even within a scene, there will be moments where telling can be a good thing if it isn't overdone. Here's an example from Pamela Painter's book on writing WHAT IF? This is a scene from Hempel's story "In The Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried."

"I have to go home," I said when she woke up.

She thought I meant home to her house in the Canyon, and I had to say No, home, home. I twisted my hands in the time honored fashion of people in pain. I was supposed to offer something. The Best Friend. I could not even offer to come back.

I felt weak and small and failed.

Also exhilarated.

The bold is telling and it makes clear to the reader the conflicted feeling of the narrator. It's effective.

It's the balance of telling and showing that needs to be looked at closely in everything you write.

Or so I think today.

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