Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Writing Wednesday: Show and Tell

"This is my Grandpa, He lives in a box underground.
He doesn't talk much and smells pretty bad too -
But he's really fun to play in the sandbox with."

I’ve been going through my rejected short stories recently that I have divided into categories. Don’t Work, Don’t Quite Work , Love them why don’t they sell?

My “Don’t Work” pile is broken up into two more piles.

“Weak Ideas” is the biggest, I’ll get an idea and write a story and realize after writing it that the main idea wasn’t strong enough to make a story on its own, Like a guy who loves to solve puzzles makes a Pentachoron (a 4 dimensional triangle) that allows aliens to communicate with him, or two of the Galaxies ultimate warriors come to Earth to battle each other in an Earth Game and find out the game is chess.

I keep them around because I might have an idea that dovetails it and they can merge into a full story.

“Weak Characters and Weak Plot” I keep around to remind me never to do that again. (The growth of that folder is slowing down, so I must be getting better or fooling myself.)

My Don’t Quite Work folder is broken down into two piles:

“Weak Characters in a good situation” Self explanatory.

“I’m missing something.” This is the frustrating one, It’s usually some element I’m just not seeing, that is in my mind but I forgot to write it into the story.

My last Pile is the “Love them, why don’t they sell?”

I was looking through this pile the other day and noticed something in one of my stories.
I wanted to tell a tale about an ultimate bad guy, one who believed in his heart what he was doing was so beneficial to mankind that he could do incredible evil to accomplish it.

And that’s what I did, I told the tale. There was next to no dialog, no action, just a guy justifying his being an evil prick.

When I brought in someone to reason with him and ask him try to have a little compassion that’s when he started to come to life. Almost all of the original story was used, I just switched it from third person to first person. By having another character there to react to his justifying his actions it made my bad guy relatable as you could feel his obsession and even though you knew he was wrong you knew he couldn’t be talked out of it. So that even when the consequences his obsession came back at him, it was believable that even that wouldn’t stop him.

It’s the difference of showing vs. telling, but sometimes I’m too into my own stories to see something that obvious.

Darrell B. Nelson

1 comment:

Stephanie Barr said...

There are two places where I particularly struggle with "show don't tell."

One is where we don't know the character well yet and they've done something that really could use some explanation.

The other is when characters are interacting early on - where we might know one character but not the other. When looking from the character we know, their conversation or actions might not make sense without some insight into the other character that we just don't have the opportunity to put into the existing interaction. Your character understands and reacts based on his knowledge of the other character. The reader doesn't know him and I don't know how to fix it without some of the character's insight.