Monday, June 7

Real Life Diagnostics: Show vs. Tell, Part Two

Our brave test subject was willing to show her next draft of this scene. For those just tuning in, we did a diagnostic of this scene a week or so ago to analyze show vs tell on a real WIP scene from a reader.

This is a great revision for two reasons. One, she did a wonderful job of getting in details that show, and two, she did a great job of going a tad too far, a common thing to do when trying to revise to show. So it's a perfect next step teaching tool.


Original
Scene:

(A) I don’t care how bad Papa whops me when I get home, just someone come soon. Jaek where are you? In the pit of her stomach, she knew her brother couldn't save her.

(B) A wolf jumped for her throat. She dropped her sword,
caught it by its fur and fell backwards into the snow. (C) Jaws snapped inches from her face. The one biting through her boot jerked her back and forth; pain shot up her leg. She screamed. Teeth tore into her shoulder, pulling hard. Hot fetid breath enclosed her face. Teeth pierced her body. Pain overwhelmed her.

(D) I’m going to die
.

(E) Black fur, white teeth, yellow eyes,
fingers locked in the wolf’s ruff. Blood running down her skin, pudding under her back. Her arms trembled.

(F) I can’t hold him!
“Papa! Jaek! Somebody, anybody! Help!”

(G) She felt a loud pop through her body and her shoulder ripping. (H) Asaro screamed again. She glared at the wolf in her face.“I will not die!” (I) Yellow eyes filled her sight. She fell into them. Something in her mind expanded and opened. (J) She was pain free for a blessed instant; then, searing jolting pain imploded muscles ripped and re-grew, bones broke and realigned, her skin itched then exploded.(K) The world twisted: color no color, smells assaulted her, sound deafened her. Then, nothing.

(L) Slowly, her mind cleared. Her fingers and toes twitched. My sword! (M) She stood up, and immediately fell down tangled up in ragged furs. (N) Why can’t I stand! (O) She struggled to her knees and out of the heavy covering. Paws. (P) She pulled back; the paws pulled back. Startled, she looked down at her body and saw silver fur.

And now, my comments. A quick note here -- I did more of a general critique to go beyond just show vs. tell, because doing other things would fix SvT problems.

(A) I don’t care how bad Papa whops me when I get home, just someone come soon. Jaek where are you? In the pit of her stomach, [she knew] her brother couldn't save her.

"She knew" can be a tell flag, explaining a feeling instead of showing it in a way that lets the reader surmise the feeling. "Her stomach twisted. Her brother couldn't save her." A physical reaction followed by the thought it causes.

A secondary element here is
that there are three ideas here in this paragraph: getting whopped, "anyone" coming and Jeak coming,. This makes it tough for the reader to know what the POV Is the most worried about. In this scene, it seems like the POV has a connection to her brother and that's who she's hoping will save her, yet he doesn't. That personal hope and connection could be stronger overall if that's how their relationship was setup from the start here. Getting whopped probably isn't something she's truly worried about since she's about to get attacked by wolves. That fear might work better earlier if she was lost or something, and help escalate the stakes. A good example of information that might work better in another part of the scene.

(B) A wolf jumped for her throat. She dropped her sword,
caught it by its fur and fell backwards into the snow.

A good show line, but there's a missed opportunity here. See the sword? Having the POV try to fight the wolves is extra conflict and added stakes. If there's something in the scene the POV can use to make the scene more exciting, let them use it.

(C) Jaws snapped inches from her face. The one
biting through her boot jerked her back and forth; pain shot up her leg. She screamed. Teeth tore into her shoulder, pulling hard. Hot fetid breath enclosed her face. Teeth pierced her body. Pain overwhelmed her.

Great details here, but they feel a little list like because it's just facts without an emotional component behind them. These are great spots for some internalization to help break it up, and there's internalization a few lines down that would go really well here. She's already being torn to pieces, so the rational thought later feels odd. Plus, by getting to the horrible stuff so quickly, there's a missed opportunity to build the fear. The wolf jumps, she tries to fight it, but can't. So she tries to hold it back, but can't. Then others wolves join in and start attacking. The events keep getting worse and worse, escalating those stakes and making the reader more and more worried.


(D) I’m going to die.

At some point in the scene the POV realizes this. This is likely a major moment, so milk it for emotional depth. It might be a good time to mention the brother again, or any personal connection or regret she might have, a reminder of what else she has to lose besides her life. This is especially true if we know she 's the protag and probably won;t die. But if this attack can do something bad besides death, that could be an added stake.

(E) Black fur, white teeth, yellow eyes, fingers locked in the wolf’s ruff. Blood running down her skin, pudding under her back. Her arms trembled.

Since yellow eyes are used below, perhaps something else here to avoid the repetition. This is something to keep an eye out for during revisions, because it's so easy to use the same images when you're jumping between paragraphs or scenes.


(F) I can’t hold him! “Papa! Jaek! Somebody, anybody! Help!”

This internal thought and dialog might work well to help break up the above details. The wolf jumps, she tries to hold it back, her arms tremble and she can't. The other wolves come in, and she starts screaming for help because she's failed to hold back or fight the wolf herself. Look for little spots like this where you can build the danger and slip in both details and emotion.

(G) She felt a loud pop through her body and her shoulder ripping.

She's feeling a sound here, so she'd probably hear the pop or feel the rip. These little "misaligned" slips can sneak in when you're fiddling with text. I call them revision smudge.

(H) Asaro screamed again. She glared at the wolf in her face.
“I will not die!”

Glaring is interesting considering what's going on. It says a lot about this character. It's another great opportunity to add something so we can understand the defiance. Something that shows where her sudden resolve not to die and glare at the wolf killing her comes from.

(I) Yellow eyes filled her sight. She fell into them.
Something in her mind expanded and opened.

Perhaps an emotional response here as well, because it's another major moment. Knowing what draws her into those eyes and how she thinks about what's happening could be interesting and help the reader connect to her better. Does she think she's dying? Is she fighting? What does she think is happening?

(J) She was pain free for a blessed instant; then, [searing jolting pain imploded] muscles ripped and re-grew, bones broke and realigned, her skin itched then exploded.

There's a lot going on in the bracketed area. Be wary of using too many adjectives to describe something. Some internal or emotional reaction here would also be nice. This is quite an experience, and you can use the POV's perception of it to hint to the reader what is actually going on

(K) The world twisted: color no color, smells assaulted her, sound deafened her.
Then, nothing.

Knowing what smells and sounds would help flesh out the scene, but since there are already a lot of details here, knowing that might be too much. But it would also be a good hint that she's changing, so it's worth considering cutting back a few of the other details to give room to show her senses heightening here. Knowing what to show and what to gloss over is also important in a scene. The critical story elements usually get the most attention. Which can be helpful when you have to decide what to expand on.

(L) Slowly, her mind cleared. Her fingers and toes twitched. My sword!


This seemed an odd first thought for someone who was just attacked by wolves. Survival, fear, escape, but not a sword that she purposefully dropped. But it's a good opportunity to show an aspect of her personality if she's a fighter and spent the scene trying to fight her way to the sword.

(M) She stood up, and immediately fell down tangled up in ragged furs.

Where did the furs come from? I suspect they're her, but it's a detail that jumps out because I don't know what's going on yet.


(N) Why can’t I stand!


She was just torn up by wolves, so this thought didn't feel plausible to me. She knows she got attacked and is badly injured. What other ways can show weakness or an inability to stand?


(O) She
struggled to her knees and out of the heavy covering. Paws. She pulled back; the paws pulled back.

This is a great moment for her to freak out, thinking it's another wolf.

(P) Startled, s
he looked down at her body and saw silver fur.

Telling a bit here. This describes what she does, it's not her looking down and seeing it. And since this is the moment when she sees she's turned into a wolf, the potential for emotion is huge.


I'd like to thank our author again for submitting her work and letting me nit pick it to pieces. I also want to mention that there are a million different ways to edit. My goal here is to try to illustrate all kinds of things that could be done, and ways you could look at your own work that might help. I hope this was helpful to both the author and readers.

4 comments:

  1. This was a great post. I learned a lot from reading it. Thanks, Janice, for doing this, and thanks to the individual who shared his or her writing with us so we could learn to write and edit better.

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  2. This is so informative! Thanks Janice and the brave brave author. I agree with Janice's critiques.

    I also thought the story was much stronger the second time round.... the first time I didn't even really realize she was changing! Maybe I'm not remembering it right but that wasn't as clear. Great improvement.

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  3. Terrific lesson here! Thanks to the author and the edits are so helpful in understanding what to look for.

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