Thursday, November 14, 2013

An insight into show, don't tell.

Writers are always learning, I guess.  Back in 2006 or so, when I started writing fiction again (the last time had been in the 1980s) I found all kinds of bewildering new rules online. One of the worst was show, don't tell. Another one was GMC. A third was ending every chapter, even every scene with some kind of hook...

I muddled along and got stuff written and continued trying to educate myself about these rules, but eventually gave up. That might account for leaving a number of WIPs on the shelf, un-worked on, for months on end.

Recently I forced myself to do some plotting on the top three stories I'd like to get written. I went back and read what I had got done so far. In Dumb Jock, I came across this scene opener that occurs a good way into the story. It's blatant telling:
Alex stepped out of the club house into a dimly lit, utilitarian corridor with cinderblock walls concrete floor that led to the stadium exit. He was accompanied by two of his teammates -- Joe, a tall, rangy third-baseman, and Bill, center-fielder, who were keeping up an understated banter about each other's performance during the game, which the Mullets had one, barely, 5 to 4. Everybody was feeling good, as they usually did after a victory.

It came to me immediately that this was telling and that I needed to show it. (Why didn't that occur to me when I originally wrote it?).  So I tossed around and figured these guys engaging in some after-game baseball banter could start the showing.  Something about game performance, maybe. So I sat there staring at the screen, because I don't know what baseball players would say in that scenario. I googled "baseball banter"  but didn't find out much. So then I decided they'd talk about personal stuff rather than baseball stuff. Maybe food. Maybe going to get something to eat, a post-game meal, maybe. Men are always thinking about food, right?

This was an opportunity to do some characterization, as well. And it came to me that I didn't know these characters, not even Alex.

It further came to me that I knew the characters in my published stories intimately -- Troy and Patty, the three sweet Southern boys, even secondary characters and villains. Knew them all, and knew all about them. Knew things about them even they didn't know.

I thought back over the writing of those stories, and realized that the way I got to know them was by writing about them. By writing the stories. Yes, I did some advance character profiling, but they came to life -- their personalities, quirks, mispronounciations, outlooks, sense of humor, etc., emerged -- with the writing of the story....

Well, duh.

I've probably known this, on some level, in the past, but lost it.

So I will have the three players banter about food, and later, as their personalities solidify with the writing of the story, I can go back and change the dialog to fit them better, if need be...

Show, don't tell. For me, it's tied to the characters' personalities.