Friday, June 9, 2017

Is your novel a movie or just an audio book?

When we professional writers say “show, don't tell,” lots of beginners don't understand what we mean. 

Basically, “show” is a motion picture with a full musical score, special effects, and a bunch of extras, shot on location.

But “tell” is just an actor with a nice voice reading a book.
Dialog and vivid details and writing in scenes are integral to showing. Almost always, narrative alone indicates you are merely telling, and dialog and action portrayed in fully-realized scenes indicates you are showing.

When you build scenes around dialog; people talking to one another, good dialog brings immediacy to your prose. Reading good dialog makes readers feel like they're on the scene, on the page, involved with the characters.

Here’s a brief example of “telling” using a simple joke:

A man was making love to a woman one afternoon in her bedroom. Without warning, the woman's husband returned home and came up the stairs. Alarmed, the man asked where the back door was. When he was told that none existed, he asked the woman where she'd like to have one.

Now, here is the exact same information turned into “showing” by the use of dialog and details:

Kevin, a young salesman from the Best Buy on 34th Street, had been making love to Michelle, a pretty, married woman who had recently purchased a new stereo system and asked him to deliver it. They were stretched out, talking, on the queen-sized bed in her pale blue bedroom on a cool winter afternoon, when Kevin heard the front door suddenly open with a bang.
“What's that?” he asked, sitting up in bed.
“My God,” Michelle gasped, covering her breasts with the flowered sheet. “it must be my husband!"
Chilled both by his nakedness and his fear, Kevin jumped out of bed and yanked on his jeans as heavy footsteps clumped up the stairs. “Where's your back door?” he asked Michelle.
“We don't have one,” she answered, her eyes wide with panic.
“Where would you like to have one?”

That’s an example of “show.” Only the first two sentences were “tell.” The rest of it is “show.” In other words, I tried to make readers feel a part of the scene, hearing the door, the footsteps, the desperate conversation. That was showing.
See the obvious difference?

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)

Lary Crews