Tag Archive - Show don’t tell

Masterful Telling of Emotion

Today’s guest post is by Nina Schuyler. It continues our look at masterful writing, introducing the element of emotional content in our novels. The craft of not only expressing emotion  in our characters but also evoking emotion in our readers is one of the most important things to master in fiction writing. In this post, Nina Schuyler shows us that telling about emotions can be just as powerful as showing those emotions in your characters.

Early on, when I was young and innocent and studying writing, it was vigorously pounded in my head that I must never ever tell a character’s emotion. T. S. Eliot’s “objective correlative” entered the conversation (events, objects, and actions must stand for or correlate to the desired emotion), along with fiction’s allure, which is to give readers an embodied experience—or as George Saunders tells storytellers, “Go forth and delight!”

But now, having read more, studied more, gotten older, I’ve encountered plenty of published works that tell the emotion. It’s right there, in big letters, winking at me—HE FELT. SHE FEELS—sad, happy, joyful, angry, embarrassed. And I do experience the told emotion. How is this possible? What’s going on?

The magic is in the way the telling is done. Continue Reading…

Masterful Narrative Scenes in Novels

Show, don’t tell. Yeah, we know that’s the rule. But there are times when scenes can be masterfully told by the POV character. Sometimes a character is telling a story, relating a memory, and if done well, it’s just as gripping as if the scene were played out in cinematic fashion.

I haven’t seen much written on the “narrative” scene, but this is a technique that suspense writer Lisa Gardner excels at. While narrative scenes can be in first or third person, the most effective ones I’ve read are in first person. What makes for great narrative scenes is the character voice.

In fact, the lack of that voice would risk boring readers. To me, openings of many best sellers (which we’ve examined in many of the First Pages of Best Sellers series on this blog), which are mostly narrative, are plain boring. And that’s because they lack a strong POV character voice.

We looked at some excerpts from Ron Hansen’s novel The Assassination of Jesse James and noted how his writing style or author “voice” made the narrative riveting (at least to me).

These are two different things. You may have an overall writing style like Hansen’s that infiltrates every page such that the only times you really get the “character voice” is in the dialogue. The storytelling voice can be consistent throughout a novel and set a specific tone or patina over the story. Hansen’s book, as I noted, reads like a biography, and I believe his choice of this stylistic voice was deliberate, to give this effect. Continue Reading…

Why You Should Shoot Your Novel

There’s a whole lot more to “showing” than you think!

Sol Stein in his book Stein on Writing says, “Twentieth-century readers, transformed by film and TV, are used to seeing stories. The reading experience for a twentieth-century reader is increasingly visual. The story is happening in front of his eyes.”

This is even more true in the twenty-first century. As literary agent and author Donald Maass says in Writing 21st Century Fiction: “Make characters do something that readers can visualize.”

I mentioned that writers are told to show, not tell, yet they’re not shown how.

Here’s what I say in Shoot Your Novel:

There are myriad choices a writer has to make in order to “show” and not “tell” a scene. Writers are often told they need to show, which in essence means to create visual scenes the reader can “watch” unfold as they read.

But telling a writer to “show” is vague. Just how do you show? How do you transfer the clearly enacted scene playing in your mind to the page in a way that not only gets the reader to see just what you want her to see but also comes across with the emotional impact you intend?

Writers know that if they say “Jane was terrified,” that only tells the reader what Jane is feeling; it doesn’t show her terrified. So they go on to construct a scene that shows Jane in action and reacting to the thing that inspires fear in her. And somehow in doing so writers hope they will make their reader afraid too. Continue Reading…

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