1. Sundowner
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    Sundowner Member

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    Showing without telling when everyone is stoic and unmoving?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sundowner, Mar 21, 2016.

    I know about the art of showing without telling, and I try to use it as much as I can. But sometimes I have no idea how to describe something when people are being silent, stoic, keeping to themselves, or just pointing something out.

    Like the line ``Richard could tell he had a lot to say, but not the courage to say it.'' when reflecting on a silent character who's just looking down into a shot glass. Or ``The fir trees around him were swaying and brushing with the wind, but he paid no mind to it.''

    Sometimes, I just can't figure out how to make it clear what a character is thinking when they aren't doing anything, and they're not supposed to be. Some of my characters aren't emotional, they've been through a lot and appear very cold. Even then, I try squinting, wincing, grasping, but I don't feel that's enough for me to show much without at least telling a little. I still try to show without telling as much as I can during other scenes, but these scenes make me a little uncomfortable, and I really have no idea how to write them. Is it just fine to tell a little sometimes? It feels cheap.
     
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  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is this maybe a sort of POV issue? For your first example, about Richard, I wonder how Richard can tell that about the other character - whatever clues Richard saw could be shown to the reader as well, couldn't they? Like, "The boy kept his gaze on his feet, staring far too intently for casual interest. Once, he glanced up, eyes bright, mouth half-open to speak, but a glare from the older man sent to boy back to his feet." Or whatever - give us the clues, or else don't pretend Richard can somehow see them.

    And the fir trees? If your POV character isn't paying any attention to them, your narrative probably shouldn't, either.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Crickets chirped. :)

    ``Richard could tell he had a lot to say, but not the courage to say it.''
    Start by getting rid of filter words.

    He shifted in the chair, rubbing his hands together, started to speak then looked down in silence.

    "Are you afraid?" Richard asked.​


    `The fir trees around him were swaying and brushing with the wind, but he paid no mind to it.'' Branches creaked, threatening to come down. It could have been a tornado, he wouldn't have cared.
    We probably already know the trees are 'around him.' This is a case where it's fine to note an emotion 'wouldn't have cared'. You are not telling the audience how he felt so much as using the imagery to express the depth of his ignoring his surroundings.
     
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  4. Sundowner
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    Sundowner Member

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    Yeah, I know about the fir trees if he isn't paying attention, but I figured I had to tell the reader where they are. Maybe I can just put the description of the location elsewhere.

    I didn't really think of focusing on the characters gazing! That's actually a great idea. I have some revising to do.
     
  5. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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  6. Rob40
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    Rob40 Active Member

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    Ginger Coffee touched on this a bit in addition to the rest of what she said. Remember that nothing happening can also be a big tell. They eluded to it above but structuring the scene that drives their action to be inaction and also being a 'tell' is another way. So they're supposed to be stoic and inactive. The trouble is that they should be and we can't get anythng exposed to the reader that way, unless you make the scene direcction force their inactive and stoic actions to be the way of exposing to us the feelings or problems. Can be done by the environment around them and their inaction to it, be it weather or personality related.

    "Why were you fighting, Jack?"
    Jack stared at his broken nails; he found them more interesting.

    How many different things are going on with Jack and his day and the events just from that sentence? What can we guess? We could make up a list of ten things or more that are happening and we didn't say anything but one.

    A snowball slapped the back of Bill's head. Bill shoveled the snow.
    Timmy ran up and apologized. Bill shoveled the snow.
    Bill didn't talk, he shoveled.
    Susan. . .

    Now, Bill is of course preoccupied. Lot's possibly happening with him.

    I'm not sure if I'm even giving proper example to what I talked about but I tried. I hope my thoughts on this helped somehow.
    Good luck.
    Keep trying some short short scenes as exercises using different environments around a character.
     
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  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I totally love this line:
     
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  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's perfectly fine to tell, and it's even preferred at times. So a simple "He is stoic and unmoving." might do the trick (depending on the effect you're going for).
     
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  9. Rob40
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    Rob40 Active Member

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    Why, thank you very much!
     
  10. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    It's okay to tell occasionally, no narrative exists without telling some things, don't get too culty with the show don't tell thing, it's not a gospel doctrine. And there are definitely ways to show this as well. As others have mentioned, the lack of something can be very powerful.
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Showing doesn't have to be elaborate. It just means giving a clue as to how the character arrives at a conclusion, instead of just rattling off the conclusion itself.

    For example, this line: `Richard could tell he had a lot to say, but not the courage to say it.''

    Jeffrey looked away, then stared at the ground in silence. Richard could tell he had a lot to say, but not the courage to say it.

    Here the reader will follow Richard's thought process, and will be more likely to share it. Plus there's a visual which makes the action jump to life in the reader's mind.

    I think the main trick is to put yourself firmly into the scene you're writing, and don't be in too much haste to dash forward from plot point to plot point.

    Obviously skip over details that don't matter, using condensed telling if they need to be mentioned at all. (He set off through the forest, deep in thought.) But if they are important details, such as a rising wind which makes the trees sway and will probably require the preoccupied walker to find shelter ASAP, that's when you might employ a bit of immersion.

    If you're walking through a forest in a preoccupied haze, what would YOU be noticing? Or, in this case, when would you notice it? If a branch tumbles onto the path in front of you and catches your feet, you'll suddenly become aware that the trees are swaying. A lot. Woops. A storm is coming. Better get under cover.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2016
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