Showing vs telling

Aaghh, the scribe’s lament. George (Hoblip) has asked me to explain this as I see it. Easy for me because I’m just reporting events from Hipposync as they actually happened, I mean I’m not making this stuff up. Still, he says I make it a bit more readable. Lot’s of people have done this a lot better than I have, but it can be a bit overwhelming to say the least. My stuff is usually in limited 3rd person, so it’s easy to get inside my protagonist’s head. We all know the concept of Perpetual plot motion (as opposed to perpetual ‘plop’ motion as George once described the gastrointestinal consequences of a bad rodent kebab he once had in New Thameswick-hah–see The 400 lb Gorilla for explanation, I cba now). Perpetual plot motion is easy: PPM

POV protag has scene objective—meets obstacle—outcomes sets him back–emotional analysis—decision—new objective.

That’s it. That’s what all us scribe’s do. The way we do this (consciously or sub consciously, if you’re a non plotter) is to use chosen scene-ettes (made that one up–other people call them events/clips/whatever)–which is a small unit which is either an:

OPEN scene-ette where the reader sees exactly what the protag is doing, hearing, smelling, seeing in terms of action, dialogue and description as through a video camera on the protag’s shoulder.

CLOSED scene-ettes where the reader sees what the Protag feels, does and says, but not usually what he sees and hears etc—expressed in terms of Action/dialogue. interior emotion and interior monologue as through a window into protag’s head.

Ad of course, the order of things here is vital–I’ll come back to that in terms of the MRU (motivation Reaction Unit) another day.

So how does this relate to that all important SHOW don’t TELL?

Basically you SHOW using Open and Closed scene-ettes when whatever is happening is:

1/ Real time to the character

2/Something emotively important is happening such as;

  • Protag is facing down a conflict (OPEN)
  • experiencing a setback (OPEN or CLOSED)
  • reacting emotionally (CLOSED
  • Reaching a decision (CLOSED-usually)

TELLING: And it is okay to use this now and again albeit sparingly. There, you have my permission!

Using narrative summary, exposition or static description.

  • When the information is vital but clogs the story e.g setups or transition in time or backstory
  • Needs speeding up where detail is not needed.
  • Information is emotionally neutral

Okay, them’s DCF’s rules. If you like them, I’ll put some more up–but you need to let me know.


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