I thought I’d written my post on telling. That is, I have, indeed, written my post on telling: this is it. (And here’s a related one.) But I had this little brain fart the other day—I learn so much from you guys!—and thought it might be worth sharing.
I love movies.* I know you may be raising your eyebrows, since I have often compared movies unfavorably to books. “A novel is not a movie,” I have said. But that’s true. Novels and movies are different storytelling art forms with different ways altogether to, well, tell the story. There are different constraints, the most obvious being one is a visual medium while the other is entirely word-based.
Do you think in pictures or in words? We talked about this awhile back. Most people, it seems, think in pictures. And this manifests itself in a lot of telling (as opposed to showing). Seriously, violation of the dictum to Show, don’t tell ranks in the top three of Things I Wish You Wouldn’t Do. (Oh, don’t ask me about the other two. I’m still working on that post.)
Telling is when you use narrative to tell the reader what she should think, rather than showing her with dialogue, body language, and so on—and letting her think for herself. When you start interpreting what’s happening, you’ve begun telling.
So here’s the movie analogy. It’s like you’re sitting beside me in the dark, explaining the movie as I watch it: “And then, see, Josephine shakes her head because she doesn’t believe him.” Shhhh!
You can write that she’s shaking her head; that’s body language. It’s when you start with the “she didn’t believe him” that you slip into telling. Instead, use dialogue:
“Oh, Bobby. Bobby.” Josephine shook her head. “But, you see, I don’t believe you.”
A novel is not a movie. And I don’t want you to interpret what’s happening. I can do it myself. :)
* Off the top of my head: Amelie. Groundhog Day. Love, Actually. Local Hero. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Bull Durham. Big Fish. In the Loop. Snatch. I have watched these films repeatedly. I will watch them again.
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