Monday, June 13, 2011

Conquering Show vs. Tell

At first, I was bummed when a few contest judges suggested my main character's motives need more show vs. tell...What? You mean my perfectly crafted fictional best friend wasn't oh so perfectly portrayed? And besides, I was finished writing the manuscript, how could I fix it now, when the story was concluded just as I wanted it. But after a few days of chewing on it, something clicked.
As I edited with pen and paper in hand (it is so much easier than editing on the computer!), I was on a treasure hunt to find appropriate places to weave a new character and new scenes giving a solid boost in my protagonist's motivation. A few things helped me do this for my Historical:

  • A peek at General vs. Specific- I had to face the fact that I took a general motivation for my character, and expected the telling of this to carry the weight I needed for character growth.

My example: Her aversion to having to wed has been done countless times, but it is up to me, the author, to sculpt it into a unique fit for my story alone.

  • Thought life is not enough sometimes. If the struggle is something that is pivotal in your character's make up and arc, then it needs to materialize in her/his interactions with other characters. An internal struggle that doesn't, seems flat and wasted space to a reader.

My Example: My protagonist thought an awful lot about how she despised the attitude of the men in her village, but her interaction with them barely made the page.

  • Determine if a new character is needed to react with the protagonist. This will give opportunities of showing versus telling.

My Example: So, if she hates the idea of being married because her father has chosen an abusive ogre as her match, it gives plenty of showing possibilities.

  • Let the thoughts you've written, spur new scenes and new dialogue. And don't be afraid to tweak those thoughts to sync with your changes.

My Example: So when she falls for the man of her dreams, I had to tackle how the big bully would weave into the plot, and not just hang out on the side for show. A battle between the two men at some point? What woman wouldn't be flattered?

In the end, this criticism about my protagonist inspired a whole new twist to the plot, giving me more active, vivid scenes that give my character's inner-self credit with the world around her.


Debra E. Marvin said...

Ooh, this really clicked for me today. Thanks so much, Angie. I'm going to print it off!

patti.mallett_pp said...

Wow!! This is so helpful, as well as being succinct! BOOKMARKING THIS PAGE!! I can't wait to look at my story "through new eyes."

Thanks for ALWAYS giving us something tasty to chew on!

Beth K. Vogt said...

Excellent points--and I appreciate your showing us concrete examples from your manuscript that we can apply to ours!

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Graet post! I have some more things to thihnk on in developing my characters and story. I will be coming back to this post to re-read. I also appreciated your examples from your work, thanks!

Joanne Sher said...

I so appreciate how you gave us the examples - I can USE this post, most definitely. Thank you for being so practical AND helpful!

Angie Dicken said...

I am just now getting to the computer! We didn't get in town until 2 am from vacation this morning! So glad this helps you all. Thanks for all your comments! Hope you have a great writing week! ;)

Casey said...

Excellent, excellent Angie, I especially appreciated your commment about making introspection relevent through character actions.

Julia said...

I love this post. The thought life is not enough is one I need to remember often. Something I'm currently working on, so it struck a note with me. Have a great vacation!

Ralene said...

A great post, Angie! I'm about to delve into a previous ms to rewrite, and your post will def be forefront in my mind as I know there is quite a bit of general telling. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

It's so thrilling when something clicks, isn't it? I'm glad you were able use the feedback to take your story to a new level. Kudos on your hard work.

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

Show vs tell is something everyone struggles with at times, because in certain areas you have to tell. It has to do with scene and sequel. Sounds like you've found a good solution.

Angie Dicken said...

Thanks Casey, Julia, Ralene, Keli and Kathi! I love to TELL, but the real challenge is showing it in a believable way. I am still finding areas in my manuscript where I need to do a little telling or a little more showing. Balance is so hard! ;)

Pepper said...

Great post, Ang - and it really struck a chord with me. How do the personal beliefs, attitudes, and motivations of my characters affect their everyday lives? Their everyday interactions?
Ugh...need to focus on that more. We all do that, don't way - have our internal struggles come out in the way we deal with other people. (sometimes in a not too pleasant way, in my case) It 'shows'
Thanks for the great reminder.

Kathryn Craft said...

I enjoyed this post as well--great examples. Clicked through from Twitter to see if this led to The Blood-Red Pencil. We have a complimentary post about show-don't-tell today. Put them together and master this technique:

Silent Pages said...

Great post! And I especially love the pic of Inigo and the Man in Black. ;)

This is the dopey little teenager who sat next to you at the writer's conference and already followed your blog, by the way. ^^

Again, it was great talking to you, and here was the link to my blog.

Be warned, it's going to go through some major changes in the near future. XD

Keep up the great posts. ^^