Friday, November 16, 2012

Make Your Story Seem Real

We have covered some of the basics of character development, so let’s look at writing your story. The cardinal rule is Show Don’t Tell. It is easiest to explain with an example. The following scene is from a work in progress, the sequel to my novel Kokoweef. Physics assistant professor Dr. Nightingale Nox, a Savant, was mugged. The main character, Skip Jackson, scared off the attacker and took Night to the hospital. The following is the scene as it would appear if it was told.

After Skip gave a report to the policeman, he left Bethany and Sarah in the waiting room, and intercepted the ER doctor. The doctor told Skip that Night was in no danger, his wound had been stitched, and he would be released as soon as his guardian arrived. Night, however, was convinced he was dying, and Skip could not convince him otherwise.

Now I will show the scene.

Skip finished reciting his account of the assault to a policeman, left Bethany and Sarah sitting on the waiting room chairs, and hurried to intercept the ER doctor. “How’s Night doing, doctor?”
The man consulted his clipboard. “Are you Mr. Nox’s guardian?”
“No, I’m Skip Jackson. I rescued Night from the attacker. I called his guardian, and he should be here shortly.”
“Mr. Nox is in no danger. I stitched his wound. He appears a bit . . . disoriented. But that should pass quickly. I’ll release him to his guardian as soon as he gets here.”
Tension melted from Skip’s jaw muscles. He smiled. “Night’s always disoriented. He’s a high-functioning autistic Savant. He can tell you more than you’d like to know about string theory, Tesla, and space aliens, but everyday stuff.” He cleared his throat.
“I see. You can go in.” The doctor scribbled something on the chart and moved on to another cubical.
Skip ducked around the curtain surrounding Night’s gurney. “Hey, bro. How you feeling?’
“My head hurts. I’m going to die.”
“Not going to happen. Ask the doctor for something to stop the pain.”
“There was blood. Lot’s and lot’s of blood. You saw the blood. I’m going to die.”
Skip sighed. When the guy got an idea in his head, it was hard to shake it. “No, you’re not going to die. When your guardian gets here, you’re going home.”
“People don’t tell people when they’re going to die. I think they should tell people when they’re going to die. Don’t you think people should tell people when they’re going to die? Gramma said if I was good, I’d go to heaven. But, I’ve been so bad. I won’t go to heaven.” His face puckered. “I don’t want to die.”
Why can’t people stop scaring their kids with fairy tales about angels and devils, heaven and hell? “Night, stop it. You are not going to die. You’re going home.”
“When Gramma was dying, she said she was going home. But she never came, and I never saw her again.”
“If there is a heaven, I’m sure you’re going there. But, not for a long, long, long time.”
“But you would say that if the doctor told you I was dying.”
“He didn’t tell me you were dying. He said he was going to release you soon.”
Night’s face blanched. “Grampa said he was going to release old Smokey. Then he shot him.”
“You are not a horse.”
The professor began moaning soulful moans. “He took him behind the barn and shot him.”
“Night, you’re giving me a headache.”

There are instances in which telling is appropriate. Mainly it is used for summary or scene setting. But too much showing slows the action and takes the reader out of the story. As seen above, though showing the story takes more words it is richer and allows the reader to feel he is an inside observer.—Quinn

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