Friday, May 4, 2007

Are Ya Feelin' It?

IN THE NEWS: According to World Magazine, "A UK family credits their pet parrot, Barney, with teaching their 4 year-old autistic son to say his first words. A speech therapist confirmed to the family that a parrot's slow style of speech and endless repetition can actually help learning-disabled children to talk."

Last night I read the Romance Writers Report. There was an article on "Show and Tell" that particularly "spoke" to me and made me...well, think. But maybe it made me think because we had just discussed this topic in my critique forum a few weeks ago.

Everyone who writes has heard the phrase, "Show, don't tell". Telling too much information instead of drawing the reader into a scene visually results in flat writing. You're reading the words but you can't put yourself there in the book to feel or see what the character is feeling or seeing.

This is such a BIG part of why I like to read. So when I critique something for someone, they're pretty much going to be guaranteed I will point out areas where I want to be able to feel what the character is going through. Unfortunately, for something that is such a big part of my reading, it's something I don't think about with my own writing.

Dang. But I'm going to think about it now. For sure.

For those who don't get the the magazine, I'm going to poorly summarize what Rebecca K. O'Connor said in her article about showing vs telling.

1) use your senses **"sometimes it's not enough to just describe what is being seen."

2) build character**"showing means letting your reader in on our hero and heroine a little bit at a time, giving them interesting tidbits that make us turn the next page."

3) use showy dialogue** "frequently, what is said is the exact opposite of what is meant. How many times does a heroine say, 'I hate you,' when what she really means as she chews her lip and crosses her arms against her chest is 'I am so attracted to you, it's making me crazy.'"

4)give your reader a scene so he/she knows the characters are falling in love but the characters don't know it yet.

5) read showy books** Susan Elizabeth Phillips does a fantastic job of showing. There is always a few points in her books where I feel grabbed in the heart and totally emphasize with a character (even a character I don't like).

For example: in her book, Honey Moon, she uses 3 pages out of her 440 book to hit the reader over the head with how unloved and lonely her character Honey is feeling which is why she's so motivated with her goal. (For time sake, I cut some lines)

"Happy Birthday, Honey!"
Flabbergasted , she saw all of her family standing in a half circle around the kitchen table. Sophie had dragged herself out of bed, Buck had thrown a sports shirt on over his undershirt, Chantal had poured the extra 20 pounds she'd gained into a pair of crimson slack, and, reflected in the lenses of Gordon's new wire-rimmed spectacles, were the flames of 20 pastel candles sitting on top of a birthday cake.
They hadn't forgotten. They had finally remembered her birthday. Tears stung her eyes and she felt years of stored resentment melting inside of her.
"Oh, my... It's--" Her words grew choked. "It's beautiful."
All of them laughed and even Sophie smiled, because the cake wasn't beautiful at all. Three layers tall, it was lopsided and unevenly coated with the ugliest shade of blue frosting Honey had ever seen. But the fact that they had done this for her, baked the cake themselves, made it the most precious gift she had ever received.
"I can't--I can't believe you did this." She struggled not to cry.
"Well, of course we did it," Chantal said. "It's your birthday, isn't it?"
They were off by one day, but that was meaningless. She was filled with joy, love, and an aching sense of gratitude.
Gordon gestured toward the cake. "I baked it, Honey. Me, myself and I."
I helped, " Chantal threw in.
"We all helped," Buck said, scratching his belly like a beardless Santa Claus.
Their faces glimmered before her, soft, beautiful, and beloved in the golden light of the flickering candles. She forgave all their foibles and knew she was right to have stuck by them. They were her family. She was part of them and they were part of her, and every one of them was precious.
"All of you--I" She tried to tell them what was in her heart, but the feelings ran too strong and her throat constricted.
"Come on, Honey. Cut the cake."
"Cut it, Honey. We're all hungry."
She laughed as Buck thrust a large knife into her hand and pushed her toward the cake. "Blow out the candles."
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you..."
She blew out the candles, laughing through her tears. Once again, she tried to find the words that would express what this meant to her.
"Cut straight down through the middle," Gordon said, directing her hand. "I don't want you to ruin my artwork."
A tear dripped off her chin as she pointed the knife into the center. "This is wonderful. I'm so--"
The cake exploded.
Screams of laughter erupted as chunks of chocolate flew everywhere. Cake shot up into Honey's face, clots of blue icing stuck to her skin and clung to her clothes. Bits and pieces splattered against the wall and dropped to the floor.
They had all drawn back from the table in a single, unified motion just as she had cut into the center, and they were untouched. Only she had been hit.
Buck clutched his stomach. Their laughter grew louder. Even Sophie had joined in.
"Did you see her face?"
"We fooled you," Chantal cried. "It was Gordon's idea. Gordon, you're so smart!"
Honey's chest heaved and she stumbled backward, staring at them. They were gathered around her ruined feast like a pack of jackals who had gorged on a banquet of malice. Their spitefulness choked her. She would leave them, pack her suitcase and never see them again.

Could you put yourself in Honey's place? Could you picture the scene perfectly? Did you feel the hurt she felt? I did.

That's what I'm talking about. So today, I'm going to go through some of my writings and see if I can pick out some "over-told" scenes. Ugh.

Have a great weekend!


Elle Fredrix said...

Wow! That's a fab scene. Showing is something I've really been working on in my current MS. It's one of those those things that once you wrap your head around, you start to do it naturally.

This rule makes sense!

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

Hurray! Not only did someone read my article, but they got something out of it! (and yay for Google alerts attached to our names as well *grin*)

Priya said...

some good tips there

Chicki said...

I haven't looked at my RWR yet, but that's a great example. Some writers just have a gift for vivid description and others have to learn how to do it.

Recently I did an exercise I'd read in an article. The author suggested if you're having trouble writing a scene (for me it was a love scene) to find a scent the hero would be wearing and choose a song that would be playing during the scene. It sounds crazy, but I scrounged through my old cassette tapes for this really sexy song, "Where Do You Want Me to Put It" by Solo and put a few drops of a wonderful room fragrance oil I had on a tissue (it smells just like Yves St. Laurent's "Kouros"). Well, after playing the song about six times the scene was done! And it's pretty hot!