Showing versus Telling & Subtlety

Sometimes being subtle is more descriptive, I’ve found.  Saying “they were brothers” is specific, but not really descriptive. What kind of relationship do they have? Are they estranged or close?

Showing

I realized that while writing about the siblings in my story. I did say outright that they were two brothers and a sister—but the important part is actually the way they treat each other.  For example, they argue a lot. Especially the older two. And yet they also have pet nicknames for each other. These two things together show both how close they are and yet also how imperfect their relationship is.

Yet it’s also totally subtle. I never pointed out either of these two things (or any of the other ways they treat each other that help suggest their relationship), but it still helps the reader figure out what the dynamics are between the characters, way better than me saying “they’re siblings” does.  Or even “the siblings were close, but they had some issues”.

Actually, this is exactly what showing instead of telling is. I am showing their relationships.

I think there actually is a place for telling, somewhat. In this particular situation, who’s to say that my “showing” won’t leave the reader just assuming they’re really good friends, rather than siblings?  I think I show their being family well enough, but that’s certainly something to consider, hence why I actually do say they are siblings.

I hesitate to let this turn into another “showing versus telling” post, because there’s already so many of them out there.  But it really clicked with me, this time, exactly what showing is.

In all the examples of showing versus telling I’ve seen in the past, it always seems to be smaller things.  Say, emotion.  Show the emotion, don’t just tell me she’s angry.  Right?  We know that.   (On the subject of showing emotions, the Emotion Thesaurus is awesome for helping with that.)

But showing is so much deeper than that.  In fact, it occurred to me, you can show while telling.  Take, for example, a description of a room.  If you describe the room, you’re probably telling.  But while you’re telling me what the room looks like, you can pick your words so that at the same time, you’re showing what the narrator thinks/feels about the room.

Another thing is character arcs.  Or character personalities.  Do we tell our readers upfront that this character is saucy?  Well, maybe, but then what do we do?  Show their sauciness.  And then as the story progresses, again, we show the character development.  What good would development be if it was all told?

Once upon a time, Selena was a spoiled child who had no idea what privileges she had.  Then her father declared bankruptcy and she lost everything.  She got a taste for what life is like at the poverty level, and she found humility.

THE END.

That really isn’t how we develop characters.  Or introduce characters.  Or introduce events.  Or…really any of that.  I’m pretty sure even the “the end” is telling.  (You know, usually we show readers they reached the end by having a back cover after the last page.)

Or world-building!  Isn’t that all showing, as well?  (Of course, there is the occasional world-building info-dump because I think it’s impossible to avoid info-dumps 100%, but still, that isn’t how all of it’s shown.  Or even most.)

Showing goes way deeper than just a simple “her cheeks turned pink and she looked at the ground” instead of “she was ashamed”.  And I think the best showing is so subtle, you don’t necessarily know you’re being shown.

Sketching: How Extensive Do I Outline?

One of my favorite things to draw are sketches.  They’re fun, and they can be as quick as you want them to be.  A sketch can be drawn as fast as thirty seconds—or it can take you up to five to ten minutes.

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There is only one rule about how to sketch properly.  Use your pencil lightly. You never want to draw a hard line while sketching—because what’s the goal of a sketch? To be erased.  And trust me when I tell you that hard lines do not erase.

Okay, Shim, you’re thinking.  What’s the point in drawing something only to erase it?

I counter that with another question.  What’s the point in writing a first draft if it’s basically a universal truth that all first drafts suck royally and it will have to be edited/rewritten to pieces?  By which I mean, you have to start somewhere.  Sketches aren’t really like first drafts, though.

Sketches are like outlines.

What do outlines do?

Generally, outlines give you an idea of where you’re going.  They also might give you an idea of what won’t work.  They might help you prevent some gaping plot holes, or show you that letting this character do that thing this early in the book might make it hard for that other character to be introduced.

What is the first rule of outlines?  They are not set in stone.

Hmm, does that remind you of anything? Oh yeah, sketches! Sketches aren’t set in stone, either.  In fact, sketches need to be drawn lightly so they can be erased later!

Both sketches and outlines are a guide.  They can be changed, tweaked, or completely thrown out the window.  In fact, they don’t even have to be used in the first place if you don’t want to use them. (I guess it’s possible to draw by the seat of your pants.  Heheh.)

Sketches should be simple.

How does one draw a sketch?  Is there a right way to sketch?

Nope.  A sketch is basically a series of lightly-draw lines that are placed to portray a vague image that can be expanded upon later.  You can sketch in different styles.  You can sketch really fast.  You can take a littler longer and add a few important details to your sketch.

Whoa, lets stop there a moment.  Details?  Details are dangerous.  Details are what should be in the final version, and not necessarily before that.  Why?  If you add too many details, you’ll bog it down.  You’ll clutter it.  You’ll take the simple, easy enjoyment out of it.

Simple.  Simple is the key here.  Remember about sketches and outlines not being set in stone? If you draw too many details, its going to start feeling like it is set in stone. And you don’t want that.

Okay, so, how much is too much? How simple/detailed do you do it?  Lets go back to what a sketch and outline are and what they do.  They’re guides.  Their goals are to show you a direction you can go and what might be the best way to get there.  Sort of like a roadmap, but with hopefully less potential of getting lost.

So how much do you do?

Only sketch/outline enough to figure out where you’re going.

Its a guide! Treat it like one.  Guidelines are not laws.  They can be dismissed or tweaked.  Guidelines are also not so vague you have no idea you’re being guided.

Only you know how much guiding you need before you can get started and succeed.  Maybe it’ll take some experimentation to figure out that perfect amount, but never go under or over that amount.

It’s a guide.