Sunday, January 10, 2010

Up and Away: A Study of Show Don't Tell

My hubby and I watched Up again last night. We saw it when it came out, but hadn't gotten the DVD yet, so it's been a while between viewings. Watching it again knowing the story, really let me notice the beautiful subtitles of the film. If you haven't seen it yet, do so.

Although there are things a storyteller can do visually they can't do in a book, Up is a great study in show don't tell. Small details and simple lines of dialogue say so much about what's going on underneath. Had the writers tried to explain the emotions, it wouldn't have worked nearly as well. If you're struggling with how to show emotion, watch the campfire scene where Carl and Russell (the old guy and the kid) are talking about Russell's father. Note what visual clues are used, and how little Russell says, but how much it really means.

Or the opening sequence that shows Carl and his wife Elie's meeting, and then their life together. This is something you could never do in a book because it would feel like really long backstory, but for those who want to sum up a life or a long period of time for their characters, I think you could get some pointers. Look at the little things that make up a life and what the writers chose to show. Poignant snippets that said more than pages of exposition could. The moments are so well chosen we fill in everything else, drawing on what we know and feel.

Plus, if dogs really could talk, I bet they'd sound exactly like Dug.

We also picked up Wall-E, which we'll probably watch this week. Another great film that does a lot with a little.

Find out more about show, don't tell in my book, Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).

With in-depth analysis, Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It) teaches you how to spot told prose in your writing, and discover why common advice on how to fix it doesn't always work. It also explores aspects of writing that aren’t technically telling, but are connected to told prose and can make prose feel told, such as infodumps, description, and backstory.

This book will help you:
  • Understand when to tell and when to show
  • Spot common red flag words often found in told prose
  • Learn why one single rule doesn't apply to all books
  • Determine how much telling is acceptable in your writing
  • Fix stale or flat prose holding your writing back
Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It) is more than just advice on what to do and what not to do—it’s a down and dirty examination and analysis of how show, don’t tell works, so you can adapt the “rules” to whatever style or genre you’re writing. By the end of this book, you’ll have a solid understanding of show, don’t tell and the ability to use it without fear or frustration.

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. On a related note, I'm always amazed when mediocre or even bad books are made into great movies. The critical ingredient? Good actors who can make things come alive on screen in ways that the printed word did not. They are able to transcend the shortcomings of the word by doing the same kind of thing you describe: in small actions, communicating whole worlds of feeling.

  2. Or they were able to take something in the book and craft their own tale. Some stuff just works better visually, and vice versa. A lot of great books have become bad movies too :)