Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Show--Don't Tell

Oh heavens, all writers have heard that phrase a zillion times. But I have a new perspective on it this week.

I recently watched The Notebook. A pretty good movie, even if the ending is a tear-jerker. (I had to explain to DG that while it’s not a happy ending, it is an “emotionally satisfying” ending, which is what’s important in women’s fiction.) Now, I’m probably the last person on the planet to see this movie, as I’m desperately far behind in all movie viewing, so I don’t think I’ll be spoiling much with this blog.

I was kind of rooting for Lon, Ally’s fiancé—not Noah, the hero. Noah, after all, went a little off-balance after Ally left, bordering on crazy and kind of creeped me out a bit with his behavior. But I knew Lon was toast after Noah exemplified “Show, Don’t Tell.”

There’s a scene when Ally tells her fiancé, “I used to paint.” He, being a perfectly nice guy, tells her, “Then paint.” No questions; no problems. Just, “Then paint.”

Noah, on the other hand, never tells Ally to paint. Instead, she wakes up to find he’s left her art supplies in a room with wonderful light and a beautiful view. He’s also left her alone so she can use the supplies.

Neither man opposes her desire to paint, but Noah “shows” while Lon just “tells.” Noah gets it; fiancé doesn’t. Who does Ally choose in the end? Noah, of course.

There are those around us who pay lip service to our dreams. They tell us they support us, but they never show us. Like the spouse that claims to be supportive—as long as your dreams don’t interfere with cooking dinner or his poker night. The siblings, parents, and children who support you “110%,” until they need you to do something during your writing time—like iron a shirt or locate soccer cleats or come and wait at their house for the cable guy to show up. They talk the talk, but never, ever walk the walk.

Show, Don’t Tell is important for writers to remember in their books, but I think we all need to insist on more showing and less telling in our lives as well. As writers, many of us had to have Show, Don’t Tell explained to us—in simple, concise sentences with clear examples. Don’t be afraid to explain the concept to those around you in your daily life the same way—in simple, concise sentences with clear examples.

It’s certainly worth a shot, right?

I wish you all a 2007 filled with lots of Show.


Instigator said...

Show don't tell was one of the most difficult concepts for me to grasp. I understood it in principle but picking it out in my own writing was difficult. I'd think I was showing only to have someone point out that it was telling :-) And once I thought about it they were right.

I think I've finally gotten the hang of it now.

And that's an interesting way to look at the concept, PC. A very true one as well.


Playground Monitor said...

I couldn't stop sniffling long enough to tell whether they were showing or telling anything. And I'd even read the book so I knew what was going to happen! I cry at Hallmark commercials too.

Good call, PC! I still struggle with show versus tell. I've heard that "verbs of steel" will help.


Angel said...

Awesome post, PC! I love looking at this as it pertains to our own lives and not just our writing. My hubby is pretty supportive in terms of keeping the kids and encouraging me to go to writers events. He never complains when I ask to go. But I still think this might be a good one for him to read. Would it be awful of me to just pull it up and make him read it? :)

Taking the lazy way out...

Kathy said...

Love is sometimes given this way. Some people show their love instead of saying the words, I Love You. Taking the harder road is a showing thing. It would be so much easier to do the things we need to do, laundry, cook, clean... instead of worry how we're going to fit the writing into our schedules.

Showing versus telling can be so confusing. Isn't it debatable anyway? A judge in a contest I was in picked out a few instances where they thought I was telling, not showing. The word, used the way it was, looked right to me and others.

The Notebook is a tear jerker that leaves you with a strong sense of love fulfilled. Both my girls have a copy. Funny thing about romance movies. An acquaintance suggested that Beyond Borders was the best love story she'd ever seen. Thinking I'd like it, I watched it. Oh, please! She didn't warn me.