|The author, Dane F. Baylis|
TELL ME AND I MIGHT GET IT/SHOW ME AND IT BECOMES PART OF ME.
WHICH WORKS BETTER: DESCRIBE IT, OR PAINT ME A PICTURE?
You've heard it over and over, SHOW, DON'T TELL! But what does that mean? It means that a good writer shows you their characters instead of telling you about them. As I said above, it's the difference between someone describing the Sistine Chapel and actually seeing it. Here are two examples in which we describe a character named Troy:
Troy was an ego-maniac.
Troy could hold forth for hours on his life and accomplishments. He was always ready to let the entire office know how much he had seen and done in his twenty years, while checking out the condition of his styled and gelled hair in any reflective surface.
The second example is the more compelling because we are showing you Troy's character rather than simply stating his flaw. It is far more effective to reveal a character by what they say, do, look like, and how they live. There are three different ways to do this:
* Description (of both appearance and environment)
ACTION Our characters come alive in what they do and the decisions they make. It is one of the most convincing ways to reveal their nature. Sometimes they are extravagant, as in an employee plotting to overthrow her boss and gain her position. Or they can be small gestures, as when a father hugs his son's shoulder after a losing baseball game. Both scales can create that vivid portrait of a character.
These can also be acts of omission, such as the employee who doesn't attend the little get togethers with his fellow workers.
DIALOGUE What and how a character says something is a sure reflection of their nature. Dialogue, as you know, is one of your most useful and powerful tools as a writer. It reveals how characters relate to one another. Is the character thoughtful and introverted, or a quick witted extrovert? Is he gregarious or a loner? Who is the dominant personality in an interaction? Well crafted dialogue can answer these questions and paint a much more complete picture of interpersonal skills and style.
DESCRIPTION How a character looks and dresses can be the initial introduction we receive of a character's personality. Take Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities". Here is the man who goes on to be a self-sacrificing hero, yet, when we first see him, we are introduced to a man who has little regard for his appearance. Everything we use to describe a character's appearance and environment paints the picture we have of the character. Beats the hell out of stating, "This guys the good one", don't you think?
A description of the environment can also speak volumes. Is their home messy or neat? Do you have to make your way through a narrow alley lined with hoarded junk, or is it monk-like in it's austerity? Are the walls stark white or vivid red? Are your protagonist's pockets stuffed full of all kinds of slips of paper and odds and ends?
These are the kinds of details that offer insights into your character's true nature. This is how you send me down the path into the landscape and hamlets of your story. Otherwise your just telling me where to go.
Meanwhile...live, love, write.
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Dane F. Baylis