Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Show & Tell

Tell me again how to make your drink!
Back in the day, I loved, loved, loved Show & Tell time.  Mostly, I loved to show and tell.  Probably we all did, but I don’t recall a thing anyone showed and told about during Show & Tell.  Probably it was a lot of stuffed animals and real animals and whatnot.  I do, however, remember some of my showing and telling.

Writers are often told “show, don’t tell.”  It’s one of the first things posted on a request for critique.

Telling actually has a place in writing.

It may seem like blasphemy to the masses of new authors eagerly attending their first conference, but it isn't always practical to show.  Some scenes, technical, mechanicals, etc. can't be shown, they have to be told—especially if the character is trying to understand why a thing isn't working in the first place, and they need that thing to work.

But Rob!  Why would a character think through all the aspects of a piece of technology?

Well, Slotted Pig, in real life, we do this in our heads all the time without really thinking. When an app fails to load or function correctly, we start to run through all the steps: turn the device off and back on, reinstall the app, check for updates and patches, etc. Some of that is pretty common, so it’s not very interesting to a reader.  When dealing with a process, tech, magic, etc. that is not common, or is wholly made-up, then some telling is not only needed, it’s downright necessary.

A simple example that nearly everyone can relate to is “trigger discipline.”

Most people don't know what trigger discipline is, even if they've handled a gun a few times.  Books and TV and Hollywood often get it wrong.  Tarantino even exploited this hand-waved trope in Pulp Fiction when Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) accidentally shoots Marvin in the back of the car due to his complete lack of trigger discipline.

In the case of trigger discipline you’re actually accomplishing both telling and showing at the same time.  You tell the reader what the term means, and in so doing, that your character knows how to properly handle a gun, that she’s a trained and even competent professional.

Certainly, there should be more showing and less telling going on in a story.  It's easier to be immersed in the visceral experience of a world that feels real.  But to say you should never tell is just not what storytellers should be hearing.

No comments:

Post a Comment