Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, May 04, 2010 28 comments
The fiction experts tell us time and again to "show, not tell." It's a useful enough guideline, as far as it goes. But how should one go about showing? Describing physical sensations is one way: throat tightening and eyes stinging shows a character is sad or upset. But a whole page of this sort of description gets tiring to read. Ditto with descriptions of movement and tone of voice.

Tapping into a character's interior world and showing thoughts that are never spoken can be another way of punching up a scene. The real trick is to write "non telling" thoughts. One of the ways to do that came to me, strangely, while editing an essay about Knut Hamsun at work. The author of the piece was from Denmark, and my mind made the association he's Danish...mmm, I could go for a danish. Wouldn't knut hamsun be the perfect name for a rich, eggy dessert bread full of pecans, sultanas and candied cherries? I posted some of these random thoughts on Facebook, and a friend piped up, "you must be hungry." Of course, I was hungry. Ridiculously hungry. Those strange associations said it colorfully and memorably, much more than if I'd made my status "Laurel is hungry."

So when you want to tell it slant in your character's inner monologues, remember "random associations" as yet another way of showing, rather than telling, how you character feels.

Ever played word association games with your character? How might he or she respond when asked to name the next thing in his/her head when hearing these words: home, trouble, desire, peace, friend, normal?

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*Yes, it's another repost from my early blogging days. I don't want to entirely neglect the blog, but I'm on fire with revisions right now--completely rewrote three chapters in under a month, and just got critiques back last night to make them shiny. Ideas for revising the back end of the book are popcorning in my brain. Back to work!

28 comments:

  1. Okay, I'll admit, I had a hard time reading this. My brain was too focused on that yummy picture. And I'm not even hungry. ;)

    Great post!

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  2. Of course you can repost for the sake of revision! Tally-ho!

    And this is the first time I read this, so I didn't notice. I love the title, btw. I once made a collection of my poetry, and I called it "Tell It Slant" because I think that's what writing really is--all truth, but slanted.

    Great post. I often struggle with a character's inner thoughts being too obvious.

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  3. Being a relatively new follower, I definitely don't mind the re-post. Great ideas about showing. I'd never thought about associations, but it's brilliant!

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  4. Congratulations on all your revisions! You go girl! And I love the re-post, makes a lot of sense.

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  5. I love this repost Laurel! And so glad you're full steam ahead with the revisions :)

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  6. You are so funny, Laurel. I'd love a danish-associated character. He'd be yummy.

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  7. Good luck with revisions!! And I'm glad you reposted this because I didn't see it the first time around--the wordplay idea is STELLAR!

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  8. Great (re-re-re-re-re)post! However, I am now CRAVING a cheese danish. Craving.

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  9. I like that word association game, thanks for bringing it up as a writing tool. Have a great time burning through the revisions.

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  10. What a great post, Laurel. Thanks for the tips and I might do the word association game tomorrow!

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  11. This is a fantastic post. I always hear the "show and don't tell" advice and sometimes I have to sit back and ask myself, "WHAT does that mean?" This is a great explanation. And that picture is so delicious-looking, it's making my stomach rumble. Good luck with your revisions!!

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  12. Great example! ...hmmm, danish... Best of luck to you during revisions!

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  13. This is a great idea. I never thought of it...Thanks for sharing it:)

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  14. Yeah, I totally want a danish right now. A cheese-filled, flaky danish.

    Another great post -- even if it was a repost, it was new to me since I am a more recent follower. And it's certainly better than no Laurel post at all!

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  15. Stina: Ah, the seduction of pastry!

    AA: Do I need to start a pastry-holics anonymous group here? :-)

    Elizabeth: I was doing a riff on Emily Dickinson: "Tell all the Truth but tell it slant-- / Success in Circuit lies..."

    As far as developing non-obvious or unique thought patterns for your character, it just takes time to build an inner world for them--you can start with books, films, shows, music they like as a jumping off point.

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  16. Southpaw: many thanks. Glad the content was still fresh for folks.

    Janet: associations are one of the most powerful characterization "shortcuts" that say a lot in a small space.

    Anne: Thanks. Productive day--just one last scene to revise from last night's crits!

    Crystal: Thanks for the repeat prods with chapter 11. It was a struggle, but I did it!

    Roxy: Hamsun was a Norwegian modernist writer who won the Nobel prize for literature in 1920--I wonder what his countrymen would think of my wanting to create a pasty in honor of their man of letters. :-)

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  17. Sara: Thanks so much. Have fun with it! I bet you'll generate some great characterization ideas.

    JEM: Perhaps I need to post food pics more often! Hee hee.

    Tricia: It's the armchair psychologist in me that likes delving this way. I think Freudian analysts use the game a lot.

    Talli: Cool. You planning to post the results or just pop them in a notebook?

    Bish: thanks so much.

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  18. Nicole: It's funny, but just hearing the word danish makes me hungry! Ha!

    Karen: It can be a fun exercise for understanding your characters better.

    Amber: I'm partial to cherry-filled ones myself.
    And thanks for the kind words.

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  19. Great advice. Even our characters can have random thoughts and outbursts. Great.

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  20. I like that! Good advice - and I'm definitely going to play word-association with my characters :)

    Have fun with the revisions!

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  21. Yay for revisions, glad to see you are able to get a lot of them done! Excellent idea on the word-assocation with characters, I should try that!

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  22. Wonderful post. Loved the way you explained showing. I think you may have made most of us hungry by the end.(Hugs)Indigo

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  23. Good luck with all your current and future revisions.
    I'm a new follower, thanks to Stina's link on Friday and I'm eager to follow after that "random associations" post What a fabulous idea!!!

    When you have a moment, pop by my blog and enter the contest I have going on... it involves chocolate and books, a great combo!

    writefromthesoulvisualeyes.blogspot.com

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  24. well thank goodness for reposts because this is one of the most helpful tidbits of writing advice I've come across in weeks! THANKS! definitely going to try this one out - word associations.

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