Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Today's Dilemma

Show is supposed to be better than Tell, but sometimes, Tell is fine because, after all, we don't need every detail shown and a story can get bogged down by those details. Tell lets you skip through them with a nice transitionary phrase or some such.

When it comes to emotions, for me, anyway, Show is tougher than Tell by a longshot. How do you show feelings, especially for characters who don't wear their emotions on their sleeve? What about those emotions not usually obvious. Not everyone throws things or shouts when angry. Some folks quietly seethe. Not everyone grins like an idiot when happy, but simply convey a tranquil expression. And I often/usually find myself at a loss for words to show the subtlety of emotion.

How did it feel when I heard my mother had cancer? Like being told my mother had cancer. How did I feel when she died? Like my mother had died. Okay, I'm being a bit facetious here, but that's my initial reaction to the question. Thinking on it, I could say I felt like the air had been sucked out of me, or that I felt like I'd been hit in the stomach. So, when you write:
Sally felt like the air had been sucked out of her when she heard the bad news.
is that telling or showing?

How would you write it? How would you write emotions less obvious or that aren't as major or broad or clearcut? How would you write that little thrill when someone thanks you for something. The little things in life that are sometimes hard to show?


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