Category Archives: Showing vs. Telling

Bringing Chracters to Life on the Page

Everyone knows the characters are not the only object writers need to thoroughly create, but for today, it’s what I want to talk about. A story is nothing without its characters. The plot might be amazing and the description of the cabin in the woods might be astonishing, but if you have an unbelievable character, well, then everything falls apart. A character needs to have a purpose– a point in a story that can change an entire event based on his/her action and the only way to do that is to make the character believable. They need to be real.

One way to create a believable character is to use a technique I learned from Jane Bradley called “direct experience.” For example, use language that appeals to the five senses. To clarify, take a character that bites into a sour apple. The writer should describe the bite—the juice, the flow, the taste—in a way that the reader’s taste buds activate and a sensational memory of them biting into a sour apple would trigger when they read your description. Whether people want to admit it or not, when people read good writing, a sensual clock ticks inside their head reminding them of the experience their reading and how it connects to their own. If the writer can successfully make that experience the similar, the character becomes more believable. In another words, and I’m sure everyone who writes is tired of this cliché, show don’t tell, but come on, it’s true.

The most important thing is to remember that characters are the same as people and because of that, they live in both external and internal worlds. Jane Bradley, once again, gives a great example of this. When a student, or you, sit at your desk and listen to your professor speak, do our minds not sometimes go off on a tangent wondering about what we’re doing after class, or how pretty that little “thang” is when a girl (or dude) goes walking by. Basically, your characters need “realism” and “experience” in matters. By realism I mean that all of us have memories of something – good and bad – and you should use those experiences to your advantage in order to create a more believable character. However, you can’t just simply do this. As a writer, it is your job to successfully intertwine both the external and internal worlds.

And I’ll leave the rest to C.S Lewis:

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Filed under Characters, Showing vs. Telling

Show V. Tell…Again?

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:

http://coffeeghost.net/2012/06/18/a-demonstration-of-show-dont-tell-with-emily-carrolls-his-face-all-red/

Brick by Brick, by Stephen McCranie:

http://doodlealley.com/2011/10/19/brick-by-brick/

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Filed under Showing vs. Telling, Writing