Monday, December 10, 2007

Don't Show -- Dramatize! (Even better than "Show, Don't Tell.")

I'm sure that, at some point, you're heard the adage Show, Don't Tell. There's even a rather good writing book by that title. Here's a new aphorism: Dramatize, Don't Just Show. Important information should be woven into the action and the results of it shown in the scene. It's a tough concept. Try to think about not telling your audience / reader the info, but just showing the effects of the event and weaving it in insidiously so that the reader just takes it for granted. Bad examples of a good idea:

Telling: Bobbie had an illegitimate child, Ted.

Showing: Bobbie picked up the photo of her and Ted, her son. He was blonde, blue-eyed, and looked like his father, Jim.
Bobbie's husband, Lars, walked into the kitchen.

Some Dramatizing and Some Summary: Ted ran through the kitchen, waving his hands, screaming "Baaaa!" and other wordless syllables. He was wild, like his father Jim. That wildness had swept Bobbie along with him for three months in Mexico, camping on the beach, hiding from the Federales, but then Jim left, and she went home to her parents and her husband.
(Never mind that it might be a run-on sentence.)

This last example still has some exposition in it. Even better would be a scene between Lars and Bobbie, with Tim doing something obnoxious and wild in the background, and the suggestion that Tim isn't Lars's son within the context of the immediate scene. Don't let the dialogue turn into exposition, but that's a whole other topic.

More Dramatizing: Ted ran through the kitchen, waving his hands, screaming "Baaaa!" Bobbie cringed, but the cringing was more a habit than a real reaction. Ted sprinted through the kitchen again, naked, "Ya-la-la-la-la-la!" and ran outside into the hot rain. Lars glanced at the café-au-lait child, shook his head, and went back to eating his high-fiber cereal. Ted streaked through again, leaving muddy footprints on the clean floor. Bobbie caught him around his seal-slippery little waist and heaved him into the kitchen sink. She rinsed the mud off him with the sink sprayer, and thinned Arkansas gumbo clay ran down the drain, probably to clog the septic tank and cost them a couple hundred dollars to have it pumped.
Lars waited, holding his bowl, for her to finish hosing Ted off. Lars was good at waiting.
Bobbie set Ted, naked and slippery but clean, on the floor and he pattered away, leaving clear, wet footprints on the tile. Lars handed her the bowl. The wild, yellow Mexican sunset pottery glinted. She hadn't bought the orange Fiestaware. The principal component of orange glaze was uranium ore, radioactive enough to hyperstimulate a Geiger counter.
"Thanks," she said and rinsed away the trace of skim milk. Lars sensibly wasted not and wanted not.
He was so, so sensible, and so terribly good at waiting. Bobbie cringed.

The dramatized information links the info to Bobbie's feelings, motivations, and history. Thus, it is dramatized. Think in terms of scene, not summary. If the sentence isn't in the real time of the scene, carefully consider cutting it.

TK Kenyon
Author of Rabid, coming in 2007 from Kunati Books
Reprinted from the author's website:

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