All The World’s A Stage, Part One.

… and I have five scripts.

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle in the last few years amongst those learning to write. It has happened as the Internet has enabled people to connect a lot better and easier with each other, but also as it has made it a whole lot easier for aspiring writers to disseminate their efforts. And that has led to a rise in information and instruction about writing.

But the kerfuffle: it’s oriented around the maxim “Show, Don’t Tell“.

In a nutshell, this pithy little saying is intended to remind writers that their characters should be seen to be doing things, rather than the writer merely saying what happened. It isn’t quite as simple as that, of course. It is just not possible to show everything that happens in a narrative, for one thing. A character reflecting will be the writer telling you things, but it works because of the framing and point-of-view. It is also affected by how close the narration is. High-level description that spins through a day’s horse-riding in four paragraphs is a kind of telling. The trick I usually see that makes that work is for the telling to advance the plot in the process.

But jargon aside, remember that this saying is supposed to be a guide.

The way I usually plan out my scenes is to imagine the characters in a set. Although realistic dialogue is not real dialogue, I also plan out their dialogue. Remember that every sentence has a purpose. It might only be a simple response, but the way it is uttered is important, too. Picture how they would be saying it, what they would be doing. Account for what they’re feeling after they knocked that other guy across the room, even if they know the twerp deserved it. Or they might have something really important to say that will turn their listener’s life upside, if he will only shut up. Meanwhile he’s obsessing over something utterly unimportant in the scheme of things, but it’s occupying all his attention just now.

This is all Showing.

You can go so far as really thinking of your scene as a stage. They will enter the scene with intentions, do stuff, and then exit it changed. Let them move about with emotion. Let the camera of the mind’s eye as it follows the action. And remember who the audience is: most writing nowadays has either first-person or close third-person point-of-view. What they see is what the reader sees. But you can also show what they’re thinking. This is one place where show versus tell gets blurred because you will need to tell what the narrater is feeling. And remember that different characters will know different things.

I’m reminding myself how I put together a scene as much as telling you. Sometimes it does feel like I’m juggling five (or more) scripts. But that’s okay. That’s the role of the writer. And the different scripts are supposed to be different because your characters will be different.

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