Monday, January 18, 2010

Dear Author: "How do I show and not tell?"

Show versus Tell. It's long been a writer's dilemma on when to tell and when to show, and how to show the important things.Every writer is different and there is no magic wand to wave to impart the information.

For me, it's about visualizing the scene I'm writing. I see the actions as if I'm watching a movie. As I type the words, I'm watching the characters on stage. While they are moving and reacting to each other, they talk, they flirt, they argue. I'm writing down each action but only as it's being seen through my POV character's eyes. New writers sometimes have a problem with POV. I will discuss this in my next Monday's blog.  : )

Here is a scene I wrote from FOXFIRE. As you see, it's an action oriented scene. It begins in Grace's POV and then switches to Tyler's. (more on this next Monday). Grace's dog, Tiffany, is in the vet clinic where Grace works. The vet, Tyler, lives upstairs. He has allowed her to sleep on his sofa overnight so she can be close to her dog. She awakens, makes a pot of coffee, and then overhears him talking.

Tyler's voice drifted through his closed bedroom door. She set the picture back inplace and cautiously approached.

"No, don't send anyone yet. I'll call if I need help. If Max is here, I'll get him."

Max? She placed her ear against the door. Who was Tyler talking to, and what did he know about Max?

"I'm not sure Max is behind this yet."

Grace's heart began to thud loudly.

"Although Max prefers guns, I think it was him. Whoever did it was lashing out at Grace. She and that dog are inseparable."

Grace turned the knob on the bedroom door and flung it open. She had a second to register the slam against the wall before Tyler dropped the phone and spun, both hands closed around a gun pointed right between her eyes.

"Damn," he said, lowering th eweapon. He picked up the phone with one hand. "I'll call you back." He dropped it back on the mattress and shoved the gun in his waistband.

Grace's shock began to ebb. "Who the hell are you?"

Tyler ruffled a hand through his hair. "I guess you overheard."

"I didn't overhear. I eavesdropped. I want answers, Tyler."

His gaze burned into hers. "Let me fix some coffee first."

She blocked the doorway. "Who are you? A cop?"

His closed expression showed no sign of what he might be thinking. "No," he replied. He gently moved her aside and strode toward the kitchen.

Grace tagged closely behind. "Are you really a vet?"

"Thanks." He nodded toward the full pot of coffee and reached for the cabinet door. Grace's hand stopped him from opening it.

"Answers first."

"Yes, I'm a vet."

"What else?"

He pulled out a chair and indicated she should do the same. Deep in her soul, she feared her world was about to come crashing in on her.

"I'll tell you everything you want to know after I have a cup of coffee."

He ran a hand through is hair again, leaving it mussed. Much to her dismay, it reminded her of soft beds and sex. "It's been a rough night."

How could he appear so calm and unconcerned after pointing a gun at her? The hard look in his eyes as he'd spun with the weapon in his hands told her he knew how to use it. She had to get away from him and from the past that knocked harshly on the locked door of her heart. "Yes, it has," she responded. The urge to run overpowered her desire to hear his explanations. "To hell with the coffee. And to hell with you!" She whirled and ran for the sliding doors.

Tyler reacted on instinct, grabbing her arm. She drove a fist into his nose, surprising him and loosening his fingers. She pulled free and darted outside.

He tested his nose for blood, found none, and hurried after her. A brief smile tugged at his lips. The woman might be small, but she packed a mean right hook.

He caught her at the edge of the woods, and grabbed her from behind, wrappinghis arms around her waist and lifting her fromthe ground.

She fought hard, slamming her head back, trying to connect with his face. Her feet kicked against his shins and her breath came in short grunts of frustration.

"Let. Me. Go." She clawed at him.

Her nails raked his arm. "Damn it, Grace. Give me a chance to explain."

"No." Her head slammed against his chest. She nailed a solid kick to his shin, staggering him.

He dropped to the ground, pinning her beneath him. Her weight was no match against him, and she wilted, closing her eyes and turning her face away.

"I'm not a cop. I'm a vet. And I work for...a private investigation firm."

She opened her eyes and spit in his face.

So much for thinking she'd given in to his superior position. He wiped a hand across his face. Her eyes glared through him like poison darts.

"You're investigating me?" she yelled.

He'd expected her anger, but not the hatred sparking deep in her eyes. Somehow that hurt more than her punch to his nose.

"Just let me explain." He drew in a deep breath. "If I let you go, will you promise not to run away?"

"Why should I?"

"Have you forgotten about Tiffany?"

Her gaze wavered. She shifted, trying to free herself. His body responded. Looking down into her flushed face and angry eyes brought a desire to mash his lips on hers and turn her anger into a passion that would drive them both over the edge. He shook his head, wishing he dared to let go of her long enough to regain his senses. He groaned inwardly as the pressure against his zippered jeans increased. "I am a vet, Grace." She pushed against him and he grunted.

"Let me up." She bucked upward.

"Can I trust you?" he asked.

"Can I trust you?" she countered.


As you can see, this is a scene just as you might observe on the big movie screen. It's done in deep POV of the character and Grace and Tyler are acting out their parts. They aren't telling anything.

If I had chosen to tell this scene, it would have been much shorter and very boring. I could have said something like:

Grace overheard Tyler talking to someone on the phone. He said the word Max. She slammed open the door and asked him what was going on.  Tyler pointed a gun at her head. She was angry and frightened.

That would be telling.  Hopefully this litte scene helps you to see how you can empower your characters and turn those telling words into action.

Happy writing!

Thanks for stopping by.

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