Show and Tell, Revisited

At my kidlet's school, there is a poster of the school mascot, which upon closer inspection is made up of little pictures of all the kids enrolled there that year.

That montage concept can be applied to fiction as a bunch of little “snapshots” that when joined create a larger impression. Authors do this using both the “show and the “tell.”

A “show” requires more words than “tell” because it draws a mental image. By combining the show with tells, a writer sends a clearer message. Here are some examples from my experience.

Sometimes you have to share boring information to the reader quickly. There are ways of hiding exposition and foreshadowing inside a scene. In Fire and Ice, which takes place on another planet, I have to explain the alien technology, economy and political system.

Here is Sarica's POV for a piece of technology, description mixed in with actions and her emotional response:

Jolted awake, she examined the brown metal {bracelet} with the small blue flashing light. Proximity sensors of different styles—wrist, ankle and collar—were designed to keep a servant from running away from their master. If the servant moved too far away, the servant received a large dose of ouch. The same pulse could also be used to send a pain wave for punishment. He snapped the control bracelet onto his left wrist.

Shows (motion and emotion): “Jolted awake, she examined...” “...flashing light.” “If the servant moved...running away.” “...dose of ouch.” “...pain wave.” “He snapped the control bracelet onto his left wrist.”
Tells (description, exposition): “Proximity sensors of different styles—wrist, ankle and collar—were designed to keep a servant...” “The same pulse could also be used...for punishment.”
Big picture: He is the master and she is the servant.
Foreshadowing: “The same pulse could also be used to send a pain wave for punishment.”

By mixing the show and tells together, information is passed onto the reader through motion, sensory information and the POV character's emotional response.

Search and find “telling” type words in the MS. The easiest to find are emotion nouns. Also look for the words “felt” or “feel.” Here is an example from Fire and Ice.

Rosche, the hero says: “Whatever I need to surrender or sacrifice for your happiness, I will do so willingly.”
Sarica, the heroine has a reaction because she has been unwilling to do the same. In a tell: “His confession made her feel guilt and shame.”

This gets the point across, but the reader doesn't feel her emotions. I need words with texture, something to stimulate the reader's senses.

The Show: “His confession stung.”

The above works okay, but in this part of the story, her feelings of guilt and shame are an important turning point. All along the hero has been, well, I'll say selfish, and his confession proves to her he has changed, profoundly. She needs a bigger reaction, and I want to make certain the reader knows exactly what she is feeling. So, I combined the tell and with show imagery.

The Show and Tell: “ His confession stung – like an insect called guilt, which brought along a biting spider friend, called shame.”

Another example:
In her Fever series, Karen Mari Moning has an excellent “show” for rage. Her main character could have said: “I was very angry with him.” Notice the emotion word? That indicates a tell.

Instead she says: “I needed to hit something. Lots of things. Starting with him.”
Notice the lack of emotion words? And yet, the rage is clear.

For the opening of Fire and Ice the reader meets the hero first.
Here's the tell: Rosche is an arrogant, callous man who believes his wealth and power (which his thinks are his only real assets) give him the means and the right to obtain whatever he wants. He has the ability to generate intense heat from under his skin, fueled by emotions, which he struggles to control. He masks his despair and vulnerable core with arrogance. In the first chapter, he is on his way to meet Sarica, a woman who has the ability to generate intense cold from under her skin, whom he lusts for, but also has a crush on. He wants to “trade” Sarica as his wife for the credits to finance her father's expedition.

Rosche “shows” who he is with his thoughts and actions, by interacting with the world around him. Here he has a bouquet of flowers for Sarica in is hand (can you say, “awe, romance.”) and is on his way to meet her for the very first time:

     Sarica could save him from endless torture. Her gift of cold generation had calmed the beast. She embodied hope for the normalcy that his curse had prevented. He would know passion again, with her wrapped around him to chill his blood-boiling lust.
     The beastly heat surged through his skin. Damn. He dare not feel. He clamped down the emotional burst. The heat built, nearing combustion. Steam spiraled from the stems; the blossoms wilted, dried and then burst into flames. Holding the torch up, he spat curses. He dropped the bouquet and stamped out the fire.
     With a grunt, he tugged down the hem of his heat resistant shirt. His burnt hand complained. The healing itch began and he watched the red skin fade to tan. He lifted his chin, strutted up the steps of the building and glared at the grimy city dwelling students. They stopped and stared for a moment before scampering away like little rats.
     Stockley had suggested they meet in his office, where Sarica would be more open to his offer. Rosche had counted on flowers to soften her for the discussion. Instead, he must rely on the impressive benefits of the arrangement. Most importantly, if she married him, he would finance her father’s expedition.
     What woman didn’t dream of a man who provided protection from harsh reality and a simple life of domestic bliss? Rosche would spoil Sarica, give her the life of a princess, and remove her from the stench of the city. In his care, she would want for nothing and never come to harm. He was considered a worthy husband candidate and women all over the Five Worlds pursued him. If it wasn’t for lust flaring his gift—scorching the woman while they engaged in sex—he would have already settled for an alliance marriage with a Noble woman.
     Though as a city dweller, Sarica wasn’t Noble, and didn’t have a tribe to form an alliance with his, he could overlook her shortcomings in exchange for the use of her Anom gift. She could turn the intense heat of his passion into a large family. Women had to willingly say the public vows to gain the legal Blessing. Only children produced from a Blessed wedding were considered legal heirs. And he needed legal heirs to rebuild his Noble line. As an educated woman, Sarica would see the wisdom of his offer. He didn’t need flowers when he had wealth.

His arrogance: "What woman didn't dream of..." "He lifted his chin and strutted..." "...before scampering away like little rats." "...rely on the impressive benefits...""...he could overlook her shortcomings..." "He didnt' need flowers when he had wealth."
His despiration: " him from endless torture." "The beastly heat surged through his skin. Damn. He dare not feel." "Rosche had counted on flowers to soften her..."
The flowers bursting into flame foreshadows their meeting and the start of their relationship as well as to show the damage his Anom gift can do.

Do you see the montage working here? Do you get a sense of who he is, what he wants and his emotions, especially those that I don't use the word for in a tell?

Now contrast that with Sarica's impression of Rosche during a discussion with her father.
The Tell: She is intensely aware Fosche of and pretty much has him pegged, she just doesn't understand why he is who he is. She believes in coms gossip, and has never experienced lust. Sarica is a recent collage graduate without much life experience, due to her over-protective father, whom she adores. Sarica believes her father is the smartest, bravest man in the world – but Stockley is too “chicken sh*t” to tell his daughter about Roshe's offer, especially after this conversation:

     With an uplifted chin, Noble Rosche carried himself as if he judged the world based on a secret standard. He wore his rugged face like a mask; not even the twitch of a muscle betrayed his emotions.
     While she had stood stupefied at the sight of him, her normally well-behaved Anom gift had threatened to burst free. Some strange mixture of emotions triggered the problem, which she could not identify, having never felt it before. As with fear, primal and powerful, she had nearly lost control. She had to keep a tight hold on her emotions lest she ice someone. It had happened once; she’d not let it happen again.
     Intrigued by the man and her body’s dangerous reaction, she had researched him even before her father’s suggestion.
     Tilting his head, her father peered up with honest curiosity. “What do you think of the man?”
     She shrugged one shoulder with faked indifference. “Typical of a Noble, his personal life remains private. I can find nothing about his upbringing, tribal ties, or family. What I did find comes from the people who have stood before him in court. ‘Excellent judge. Impartial. Emotionless. Rule of law prevails. No mercy. No compassion. He easily makes the cold, hard decisions, even if all parties in the case suffer. Judge Rosche presses for a quick resolution.’ Do you know he once had a puppy cut in half to end a dispute?”
     Her assessment: he was dangerous, heartless, and cold as stone. Enjoy the view, but stay away from the edge.
     Her father asked, “No one you would want to spend an extended amount of time with?”
     With girlie pleasure, she could ogle Judge Rosche. Beyond that, they probably couldn’t even maintain a conversation. “Not at all. Why do you ask?”
     The wrinkles on his forehead deepened. With a tense sigh he leaned back in his chair. “No reason.”

"She shrugged one shoulder with faked indifference." shows her internal conflict that plagues her throughout the story: she lusts for Roshce but believes him to be completly unsuitable as a husband. That one shoulder shrug shows one side of her conflict. The shoulder that doesn't shrug shows the other side of her conflict.

Notice the subtext to the conversation. Stockley knows that Rosche is on his way to talk to Sarica and starts this conversation hoping his daughter will have a good report about Rosche. When she doesn't, he drops the subject. Coward. That's the show for him.

I'll keep you posted.

Carrie O.

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