1. water in my boots
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    water in my boots New Member

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    "Showing" rather than "telling", with limited character interaction.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by water in my boots, Jun 17, 2012.

    I recently started a work that, im my opnion, is worthy of being of novel length, but I am having a hard time making it long enough. The plot is complex enough, and there are plenty of setbacks for the hero to overcome. In most of the works I have read, the plot is developed, and the backstory revealed through dialogue with other characters, in essence. "showing", not "telling". This, I would assume, would make the read much more interesting, and more extensive. My problem is that this character is single with no siblings or children, and was abandoned by his parents. He has lost his job as well, and the depression and loneliness associated with those misfortunes play a major part in the plot, or I would have omitted them. Here is my question: How can I "show, not tell", when my hero has nobody to talk to.
    P.S. I assume my work would benefit from a FOIL character, and that will also be hard to achieve.
    All help is appreciated.
     
  2. Lovelina
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    Lovelina Member

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    Instead of writing "he is sad", you could say "he wept silently when he thought no one was watching". In the former case, you are telling us exactly how he is feeling, the latter lets the reader interpret his feeling.
     
  3. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Dialogue isn't the only way to "show" in general and it isn't the only way to reveal backstories. Flashback is one option, may be suitable in your case because lonely people tends to remember a lot of past events. And if you feel the need to insert a lot of backstories reassess the beginning timeline to check if the "meat" of the story is actually in the character's past.
     
  4. water in my boots
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    water in my boots New Member

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    Thanks guys. Yes, there are some flashback scenes. In fact, the book is divided into two parts, the first containing many of the flashbacks and thereby, most of the backstory. This section is the one causing the problems, but it should be alright. The second part of the book should be more of a matter of editing things out rather then racking my mind for ways to extend it, as it will be the climax and denoument. For me at least, those are the easiest parts. Thanks again. Any other ideas?
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think that showing needs dialogue.

    If you want to show that a character is near-starved hungry and broke, but proud, you don't need him to say, "Wow, I'm hungry! I sure wish I could afford a burger! But I wouldn't ever take charity." to someone.

    Maybe he goes out walking. He looks into the window of a deli, at the displayed sliced meats and baked goods, and then walks on quickly. He pauses when he sees a half-eaten burger in the trash, but again walks on, shaking his head. He checks the change slot in every pay phone that he passes, and when he finds a quarter, he takes another quarter and two dimes out of his pocket and shakes them together, studying them, then stacks the two quarters and two dimes together in a little tower and studies them again. He stuffs them back in his pocket and walks half a mile to a big discount grocery, passing a dozen mini-marts on the way. He walks around inside for forty minutes, looking at the doughnuts for thirty-seven cents, the candy bars for sixty cents, reading prices, reading prices. He sees a jar of generic peanut butter discounted to seventy-two cents and walks around again, searching the floor, until he finds a nickel. He buys the peanut butter, carefully pockets the remaining three cents change, and leaves the store. He ignored the "take a penny, leave a penny" tray.

    He walks another half mile to the building where he has a room. He goes inside, locks the door, sits down on a kitchen chair, and opens the jar with hands that shake just a little bit. He eats the peanut butter slowly with a spoon, getting up halfway through to get a glass of water, until the entire jar is empty and scraped clean.

    Then he goes out and starts checking pay phones again.
     
  6. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    There are certain ways that you can write isolated characters without having too many interactions or resorting to unnecessary character introductions or scenes. The best advice is to look at other novels or short stories that have similar themes and see what you like about the way in which they choose to explore character, setting, theme etc etc.
     
  7. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    well, a novel lenths story with only one characters thoughts and no interaction with others would probably be a little monotonous IMHO.
     
  8. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I agree and that's why I would say again to reconsider the beginning timeline. Turn all the back stories into "now", begin the story with it, then show us, as events starts happening, how loneliness and depression slowly begin to control his life, finally culminating into that climax you are looking for. This way you will be able to avoid all those back stories, and more importantly the readers will be following his change in character firsthand, and if you do it right (make the readers really care for him) the readers will root for him to come out of the mess he is in. IMO this will be much better than your plans to have him already changed in the beginning and explaining through back stories how he landed himself there. Another disadvantage of beginning a story with a character in a highly emotional state like depression is that you will find it difficult to make the readers care for him.

    Another way of doing it (not drastically changing what you have done) is simply switching between his past and the "now" of the story. It will be like flashback but it isn't actually. It will be like telling two parallel stories that of his past and another of his "now" after depression started. (WARNING: The two should be separated by chapters, may be alternate chapters.) First chapter he lost his job and depression, next chapter is about happier times like how he met his girlfriend. The two may seen sort of unrelated at first but slowly they culminate and become one story, preferably near the climax. You mentioned foil character, here in this case his own past-self could be used as sort of a foil character, giving a distinct contrast between the two. This could make the readers ask-- what happened? and turn the pages looking for explanations. As I warned you before this should be handled carefully otherwise you might end up confusing the readers.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Even a character isolated like that has conversations. There are job interviews and phone screenings (an excellent opportunity to expose his work history), there are conversations at the store checkout line, phone calls to his bank about outrageous charges (he might vent about about his personal problems, trying for sympathy), doctor visits, possibly court appearances (especially when debt collectors go after him), etc.

    There are plenty of opportunities for showing as he goes about his daily life, including sitting in a broken down chair in a darkened room, because he is too depressed to even get up and turn on a lamp.

    This may help: Show and Tell
     
  10. Program
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    Program Member

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    You can make use of his physical actions, unless you character is also just sitting there staring into space. If he's depressed, you can make him drink alcohol, or do things a depressed person does. When actions are described really well (quality), the fictional feeling is almost "real" and many readers like that.

    And even if he is staring there in space, you can use internal thoughts and feelings. If he's depressed, you can let the reader know, through his thoughts, that he feels he's worthless, or have the reader feel the character's heart dropping.

    You can also make use of another type of "showing," which involves not attacking the "showing" head on, but instead maybe a clever connection here or there, or a color at an opportune time can show a lot, even if it "looks" like it doesn't. If he's depressed, you can focus on picking out the dark colored objects and giving them some significance, or even just having a noticeably larger amount of negative (or depression-related) words in this passage than normal can change the mood and show how dark of a time this is for the character.
     

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