Thursday, March 25, 2010

Making the 'Other' Easier to Digest

My critique partner makes fun of me because she says that one way or another someone in one of my books ends up being psychic. This is entirely true, I have a current release called Behind the Scenes with Eirelander Publishing, which is a modern contemporary erotica that has no paranormal elements at all. Also, my Sci Fi short story Yes, Captain is also psychic-free. But her point is taken none-the-less so today I’d like to talk about putting the ‘other’ into words.

Probably the reason why I write so much about psychic abilities, whether they be in a wolf pack or outside of it is because the subject has fascinated me since I was a child. I can vividly remember watching that silly scene in Ghost Busters where Bill Murray’s character is hitting on the blonde college student by making her think she is psychic when really she is not while he zaps the heck out of the male college student who is actually getting some of the psychic answers correct.

But it’s a challenge, as a writer, to write about things that go in people’s minds without ‘telling’ them about it. As writers we are particularly concerned with this concept of showing versus telling. For example, and this is a very mundane example, if I tell you “Rebecca felt embarrassed” that is me telling you how Rebecca is feeling. However, if I saw “Rebecca’s cheeks got red” then I’ve just shown you that Rebecca is embarrassed. How much showing versus how much telling is appropriate in a story is a topic for another day and I’m not going to get into it now because I will have fifty writers all saying different things fighting in the comment section here. Let’s just say that every writer has their opinion on this subject and what makes ‘good’ writing versus ‘bad.’ I really don’t want to open that can of worms.

It is hard to find the language, I have found, to write about that which is not ‘real’ to everyone. If, and let’s go back to our fictional character of ‘Rebecca’ again, Rebecca is psychic and she wants to find the man who kidnapped and killed another fictional character of Marc, I might write ‘Rebecca sent her senses searching, where was he? Feeling the shimmer of her other senses turning on, she could see him where he sat. The man was hungry, but it wasn’t for food. No, what he wanted was more death.’ To me, this would be fine. In fact, when I read books that describe things like this I really like it because it allows me, the reader, infer a lot of what the character of Rebecca is doing. However, I certainly did a lot of ‘telling’ and for some people they just can’t get into a character’s head unless they are ‘shown’ completely what the character is doing. So the rewrite would be ‘Rebecca’s hands tingled. She closed her eyes. Where was he? Sending her senses outward always caused the base of her neck to stiffen up. She knew she’d have a killer headache later but it would be worth it if she could find the bastard. Boom, like lightening striking a tree her senses found what they were looking for. He was there and he wanted to kill again. This time she could stop him. A smile formed on her lips. She loved this part.’

For me, as the writer, it is always a challenge to figure out exactly how much I have to show versus how much I have to tell without sacrificing my voice to the description.

How about all of you? How do you like to read your ‘other?’


Annie Nicholas said...

I'm such a picky reader. The stories I enjoy the most have to have a lot of show. I saw such a difference between your examples of writing.

Recently, I read something that affected my writing. The article said, "You don't want your reader to say, 'It was like I was watching a movie.' You want your reader to feel like they were IN the movie."

That's what make the difference for me when it comes to show vs tell and how deep a POV it is.

Sandra Sookoo said...

I'm the same way, Annie. I want my reader to experience the book. I want them to laugh, cry, agonize, celebrate with my characters.

Think of it as falling down a well or a rabbit hole. You're sucked into the book and don't want the chapters to end.

Too often, writers tell the story as if they're reporting the findings like a book report. That just doesn't cut it for me :-)

But then, I'm a descriptive writer anyway.

Different strokes, different styles. Doesn't mean it's wrong. :-)

Catherine Gayle said...

I have a lot of respect for authors who can tell, and tell well. However, I find that many authors who rely heavily on telling tend to do it in a pretty mundane manner. There's a big difference between a batch of telling where the prose is almost poetic and where it is just flat. So I tend to prefer a lot of showing. In your two examples, the second one felt so much more alive. I think that's a great example of how showing can bring writing to life, and have the reader experiencing the story alongside the characters.

Rebecca Royce said...

Hey guys,
Yes. I made the two examples very distinct in this blog to show the difference but I have to say that I actually agree with Cat. I actually think that really good telling can really make a point.
If the author has been showing and then all of a sudden--boom---you write something like "He was fuming," Then you know as you read it, wow, yes, he was pissed off. Does this make sense?
Thanks for your comments guys!

J Hali said...

Great post, Rebecca. I enjoy 'showing' a little and 'telling' a little. Show me what characters are feeling, tell me what the room looks like. I may be in the minority, but I find I gloss over settings in stories to get to what the people are doing and talking about. Great dialogue really grabs me.

Rebecca Royce said...

J, I'm the same way. Dialogue any day of the week!