Sunday, January 10

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.

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).


A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include 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. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

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2 comments:

  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.

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  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 :)

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