Friday, February 6, 2009

Show vs. Tell Courtesy of the Screenwriting Guild – and Facebook – and an old high school friend

I like to think of myself as a student of writing. I often tell my writing buddies that I've learned more about writing this year than I thought a person could know about writing. And I've just learned something else. (Including how to use the word "writing" four times in two sentences.)

I was chatting on Facebook the other night--no surprise there--with a friend of mine from high school. As if that's not scary enough, he said something that made me pause and think. T-man is wise beyond his years, even if he doesn't know it. And he's younger than me, and that's even more terrifying. I have an awesome picture of us at a dance where I'm kicking this fake glass thing with T-man, so we go way back. And that picture will never surface, so don't even ask.

So we were chatting about writing and he said he's written some screenplays. I was impressed, because I don't know the first thing about screenwriting. He said, "You can't say, 'He was mad.' You can only write what a camera can see or a microphone can hear."

I was like, "Wow. That sounds hard." Then I realized that that's exactly what I should be doing in my fiction writing. It's the old "show vs. tell" mantra. So yesterday I opened a little snippet of my writing to send to my critique group. I noticed how many things I had in just six pages that a camera wouldn't be able to see and a microphone wouldn't be able to hear.

*head desk*

But I'm all about applying what I learn, so I'll go through my stuff to make it more showy. Does that mean I'll cut every thumping heart? Probably not, because I'm all about emotion in writing, too. But it was a good reminder of what I should be doing in my writing.

And on a bonus side note: I've finally realized the power of Facebook. I still don't know what to do with the vampire clans, and I haven't found scrabble yet, but at least I've gleaned something from my Internet addiction. Silver lining, baby. Silver lining.

10 comments:

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Ugh. I was just dealing with this exact problem last night while I was writing and had to slap my own hand when I realized I was doing too much telling and not enough showing. Sigh...

Sandra said...

You need to join my vampire clan, Elana! I think I sent you an invite; all you have to do is accept.

Interesting point about how screenplays have to show instead of tell. One advantage we novel writers have is that we can appeal to more senses than just sight and hearing.

Kat Harris said...

Screenwriter Lew Hunter (who just happens to be from my home state of Nebraska) ;-) wrote a really good book on screenwriting awhile back if you're interested. It's called "Screenwriting 434."

It has some great pointers on writing for screen.

I tried to write a script once, but it feels so lifeless. It's like going from the color comics on Sunday to the plain old black and white on the weekday.

Sarah Jensen said...

What a great point. I'll go throw my ms and see what I can do. Thank T-man for me.

Jenn said...

I have to be a bit of a devil's advocate here. (I'm not very good at it, but I'll try my best. Bear with me.) :)

But, really, part of the reason I enjoy reading a book so much more than I do watching a movie is /because/ it shows us stuff the camera can't see. Film is sooo limited.

So, when you're looking at the show vs. tell question, just know that internal feelings, thoughts, etc. can absolutely be part of the "show".

Suzette Saxton said...

Riveting. I mean it. You had me from the first word 'til the last.

ElanaJ said...

Dude, devil's advocate. I love that. Jenn, you're totally right. That's why I love books too. I live them like I *am* in the movie--the one I create in my head. I do like including more than sight and hearing in my novels, but sometimes I do a little too much telling.

Archetype said...

If you figure the vampire thing out, definitely let me know.

This is a really good realization. But Jenn also makes a good point. I guess the trick in writing fiction is to balance the two...

Francesca said...

Just another minor demon throwing in her lot with Jenn. It's the life of the mind, the interior of people, the roiling landscapes of the unseen and unspoken which make books so different -- and for me so much more satisfying -- than film.

(Although I think I'm still going to chant, can you see it, can you hear it, to myself every so often.)

Christine Fonseca said...

great post as always...the telling v showing things is a tough one. It is a balancing act - too much showing isn;t good either. I think it is all about balance.

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