1. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Painting a Picture for a Plot

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Reggie, Jan 12, 2011.

    Does any of you all notice that some of us tend to tell the story rather than showing it? I get this problem all the time. I am asking how is it possible that people can manage to picture a scene and implying what they said rather than actually telling what they said. In my opening scene, my MC is in California getting beat up by some people because he has a learning disability, and many people notice that people are mentally challenged, sometimes by their facial expression and by the way he speak. However, the main point of the scene is that, since he knows that he is moving home from California in chapter one, he has an opportunity to see his brother, but his brother runs off and tries to avoid him. The beginning of the scene shows the introduction to the antagonist, but in later chapters, he will be developed.

    Therefore, does anyone have any idea of how people manage to paint a picture of a scene rather than just saying, “Once upon a time there was a teenager who got beaten in California, so he moved to Kentucky to run away from his problem and see his brother…” and so on? I know this sound like asking someone on the forums to do my homework, but it is not. Perhaps, I have read many books about this and it turned out to amaze me, and I thought to myself “How did this author know the mechanics of painting a picture for a scene?”
     
  2. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    those who are 'meant' to write simple do...

    they generally absorb how it's done, by constant reading of the best writings... usually from an early age...

    if everyone could do this, there'd be no 'great' writers, would there?
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find showing much easier once first draft is complete. I tend to tell more in first draft. Once I know the story it is easier to come up with incidents, ideas and descriptions for things. However I don't agree that show is always better than tell - use of both in my opinion makes a better story. Look at it and tell how something happened rather than what happened.

    With your example: Have the interactions with people, the beating so more of what it felt like and what happened for example:

    There is an almighty crash outside. Getting up from my desk I dash outside to see my brother Angus pin his best friend Jack up against the wall. Jack's arms are flaling as he tries to land a punch on Angus' chest. I too late to grab his arm, Angus balls his fist and lands it right in Jack's face. Tough wiry little Jack finally manages to land a kick to Angus's groin, as Angus curls up in pain he drops Jack on the ground.

    Behind me is the last voice in the world I wanted to hear. 'Professor Lorenzo, clean your unruly scholars up and bring them all to my office this instant.' Crap - my boss Abbot Kazuto. At least it has the impact of the boys helping each other up and starting to dust themselves down.


    Then describe your characters journey to be with his brother etc
     
  4. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is your story told in first person or third.
    If it is first person - get inside the teenagers head, what does he think? how does he feel?
    Build the scene up, when he saw them coming he anticipated what would follow. His heart beat faster, panic, sweat.

    If third person- imagine the action going on in a movie and write what you see.
     
  5. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    No worries, I'm not sure it's possible to explain the technique, so it makes sense to teach by example.

    You can just open with action, or a scene from the character's daily life, and make the background info a part of the dialogue:
    If the character has a learning disability, having him hide it should be a great way to build drama and tension. Let's say it's dyslexia - as the reader follows him through his daily life, it should be obvious that he has trouble reading signs, makes up excuses to not follow written instructions, and so on.


    The logical conclusion of that statement is that the OP is not meant to write and should just give up.

    The logical conclusion of those statements is that if you're not born a great writer, there's no point in trying.
     
  6. Allegro Van Kiddo
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    Allegro Van Kiddo Contributing Member

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    This is easy...

    You have to tell your story as if you're seeing it. This requires you to be like an actor who is playing all of the parts of your story.

    Dirk Brutus: I saw this f@cked up looking dude with a limp and one of those chicken wing withered up arms and my stomach turned. He had those freaking chinese eyes, but he was like a white dude, and what the hell is that! His lip was all paralyzed and sh!t and talked like he had a mouth full of his mother's underwear. The little puke was so disgusting that he should've been drown at birth so I decided to f@ck him up further, just for the lulz! Who could he tell, no one would understand him anyway!

    Fred Fidelity: I noticed the new guy in school and I heard he had CP. My mom told me about it once and it's some kind of thing like that scientist Steven Hawking has, and he's a genius. My mom said that people like that can't move well, but can think just like anyone. Anyway, I saw the new guy walking on capus and it looked really hard. His legs wouldn't go straight and he had a metal cane thing attached to his arm. He was making weird moaning noises, but I guess he can't help it. Now, he's walking toward that sweaty fatass dirk. Goddamn, can't he see Dirk got that pig eyed expression like he just can't wait to kick another defenseless person's ass?

    I'm going over there and make him eat that f@cking Ronnie James Deo t-shirt he wears every day!

    So, I imgined what it's like to hate the handicapped person and then admire him. I used a little showing and a little telling. Of course, I used first person, but you can easily convert it to third by replacing "I" with "Brutus thought," and so on.
     
  7. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Ok, lemme have a go... :D Btw I don't have a clue what Kentucky is like - not American, so forgive me if I've ended up turning New York into a rainforest or vice versa or something!

    So, that's how I'd start, if I were writing it - read below. I've taken the liberty to assume this guy is at uni (or college) and I've given him a name.

    In short, I wouldn't spell out the story right away in the intro paragraph - but I've hinted at the fact that something's wrong, he's afraid of something, and he's certainly not home. He's moved from somewhere. As for where and why, you will establish that as the story goes. Intros are meant to pique an audience's interest - and you do that by leaving some mystery :) I understand the whole "show, not tell" thing like that, I suppose - I haven't really said he's moved, but you know he's not home. I haven't said he's an outcast, but that's obvious from his body language, shuffling past people, and of course, his desperate plea to himself to simply "blend". I've built an atmosphere like he doesn't belong - from the first paragraph - that people were oblivious to him, isolating him, without ever saying he's isolated.

    Of course, I say all this, and then I'm gonna discover that my writing above was utter crap and you shouldn't listen to me at all :D
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not at all... it's not referring to writing per se, but only to how the greatest among practitioners of the writer's art are/were able to do what they do...

    again, you're being illogical in drawing that conclusion, which is not at all what i'm implying... not being born with the ability to be 'great' at something does not mean that you can't be at least 'passable' or 'good' or even 'better than most'...
     
  9. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    You may be stuck in the abstracts of the story instead of getting into its visual meat. In the abstracts, a story is just as you described. "Guy moves away to avoid being beaten up." That's the abstract -- the premise. You have to move away from this way of looking at a story once you're starting to tell it properly. In your own words, you're going to paint the story.

    What helps me tremendously with this part is to imagine my story as a film. I'm a camera and all I can do is move around the scenes and report what I see. Another key word here is scenes. Maybe what you need to do after writing down the premise is to split your story up into acts and locations -- each piece being a small story in itself. It's much easier to work out the detail once you're focused on a smaller part of the whole and scenes is the standard through which that's done.

    Sit back, let your camera sink into the scene and see how the movie plays out. Rewind every time it runs off track and look for different angles. Then start writing what you experience as a camera. If it doesn't become more visual this way, well...it will, so no worries.
     
  10. lemurkat
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    lemurkat Senior Member

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    I would personally start with him getting beaten up and bullied, or hiding whilst the villains discuss him - perhaps in the manner as the person above suggested. Actually writing the bullying scene would be the best - most peole seem to have taken the first person approach, and I think that would be a good one in this situation. So... first you need to know a bit about your MC - is he a student? does he work? is he currently unemployed? Then set up a situation for him to be in. Have him bullied - mocked for his appearance, perhaps, and then beaten up. Have him skulk home. Have him decide he's going to clear off out of town and see his brother. He calls his brother to warn him of his arrival. Brother is abrupt with him and cuts the convresation short. MC heads toward Kentucky anyway.

    Spoon feed us the information - don't go out and say "I have a mental disability", show it in his actions or via the reactions of others to him. If all else fails, try dialogue. This is a great technique for giving over small amounts of plot points. But be careful not to overdo it - conversations must sound natural!

    Good luck!

    And I personally would ignore what the person above said about some people being able to write and others not. We all have the ability to write. There are basic techniques you can learn, and develop and if you choose to ignore advice then you will never advance past a particular level. You certainly won't advance if you just go "okay, so I don't put the words right, I just might as well give up now and not even try".

    I do a lot of illustrating as well, and I get sick and tired of people saying "oh I wish I had your talent". I wasn't born with the ability to draw! I was born with the DESIRE to draw. So I drew - almost every day of my life. I didn't take lessons, but I took advice, I looked at books and most of all, I practiced. Writing is the same. I used to have an insane desire to write and millions of plot ideas running through my head. Now... not so many...

    The really great writers might be born, nor bred, but I think that each and every one of us has the potential to be a great writer. And what is considered a great writer? Shakespere? "Great" certainly does not equal "successful" or "rich". Most of the popular authors today - James Patterson, Lee Child, Diana Gabaldon, Jodi Picoult - are not writing enduring classics - they're writing what's popular for the here and now, but I wouldn't put them on a pedestal above other authors, they have merely found a winning forumla. You need to find yours too.

    I think your idea is sound and would like to see how you develop it.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    isn't that a contradiction?... or are you saying that every human is born to be a great writer [and, by implication, a great artist, singer, composer, etc.?]
     
  12. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    Show, don't tell. This phrase has been used so often that nobody knows what it means.

    You have to learn to write in the moment. You write what happens to your character in one moment, then what happens in the next, and then keep going. To often beginners write in an objective fashion. This distances the story from the readers. You have to write as though you are riding on the shoulders of the character. Or to put it the way I've been told: You have to write so close to the character that you can smell the body odour through their deodorant. (Hey, nobody said writing was without its hazards. :))
     
  13. lemurkat
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    lemurkat Senior Member

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    You might have to be born with some natural talent - or at least inclination, but it is practise and experience that refines it.
     
  14. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I once read an author who explained this phrase perfectly. People can give you tips on how to drive a car, but you won't really understand any of it until you get behind the wheel for the first time. :)

    It's the same with a book. You don't really begin to understand all the writing tips out there until you finish your first book/story.
     

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