We’ve all been told, a million times, to show and not tell. And we’ve all heard explanation after explanation as to what that’s really supposed to mean. Of course this is helpful, but, for myself at least, I’ve always liked nice, concrete examples to help me really get into the meat of a concept like this. Sure, you can read books, and you can listen to people talk, but there’s something that’s much more effective about finding someone who does what you want to do, well, and learning from them.
And that’s why I’m glad to share a story that I’ve had the pleasure of stumbling upon recently: His Face All Red, by Emily Carroll.
This comic is one of those rare stories that gives me that wonderful, uneasy feeling that sticks with me. It’s been almost a week since I first read the story and I’ve thought about it at least once every day since. That impresses me.
Read it. Take the time. It’s incredibly short. Like, eight pages. But give it a look and take the time to feel the punch of it.
Now just imagine if she had spelled all of that out? If she had explained every little detail inside of the round-faced brother’s head. It would feel flat. There wouldn’t be that enchanting, intangible creepiness that makes the story so enjoyable.
Now, this is a comic. So, how can we translate this into our writing, into straight-up prose? I suppose the answer might, in the details, be different for each of us. I need to feel comfortable imagining a scene before I can write it. So, showing, for me, is a matter of describing what I might see rather than explaining what’s happening. Though, at the same time, I have friends who feel more comfortable when they can shoot from the hip. That is, writing and letting a scene unfold impromptu.
This, I’m less comfortable with, but I feel like the same ideas might apply. Imagine you are creating a comic. Imagine you’re working visually, and really try to make those vital details pop. Does the way a character dresses tell us something about who they are? Does the way they carry themselves? Do they have nervous habits? Really try to picture those details, to see how your characters might act if you were to see them in real life, and let us view those actions or qualities through your eyes.
The important thing here is: what works for you? Seriously. I want to know. Leave it in the comments.
Now, I want to wrap-up with a little homework. Take a step outside of your comfort zone, find an example that really touches you, and just take some time to get to know it. Try to figure out why it makes you feel the way you do. And then hold it up next to your own work. See if you can’t add or subtract something to evoke a similar level of emotion. Try to make yourself laugh, or cry, or shiver and want to hide. Try to pull out those feelings, and then step back, get super critical (read: stop patting yourself on the back), and see why that happened.
And, again, share your results in the comments! It’ll be fun.
Some extra links, for your enjoyment:
CoffeeGhost.net, A nice break-down of His Face All Red:
Brick by Brick, by Stephen McCranie: