Friday, March 21, 2008

show and tell

Last night before workshop I was giving the elevator speech on why I ended the first act with a denouement scene instead of an oh-my-god scene and the conversation ended up the way so many conversations about writing do—character development vs action. Being a chick, and given my predilection towards relationships, I'm drawn to scenes that offer glimpses into "THE BROKEN HEART."

I realize not everyone has that preference though.

"Give your character a piece of physical business." That's quite often the prime directive. If you want to engage, say my workshop cronies, don't just have a bunch of folks in the room sitting around the table navel-gazing and lamenting.

Interestingly enough, there's been a shift around OUR table lately. Several workshopees have been exploring graphic novels. One is writing/drawing one, one is using elements of cartoon in his work and another has been asked to write an introduction to a comic book. While the invitation in a graphic novel is to show stuff happening, more often than not characters are alone with their thought bubbles. But because of the visual medium, the audience is "shown" instead of "told" the state of a character. Facial expressions, physical business, activity—these are all implicit in the form. The image is supplied, and therefore does not have to be described.

In lieu of providing a sketch, writers need to impart physical activity without interrupting the tone of the story. It's one of those horizontal/vertical balance conundrums. You describe the activity and advance the plot (e.g. moving characters from a to b, setting up the scene), while deepening the character by moving her into (emotional) danger and creating, in the reader, a desire to give a shit.

The last scene of my first act is all about making a case for the reader to care about Fifi, at the expense, I suppose, of drawing the reader into a cliffhanging situation. I'm not sure it works, but I truly won't know until I get to the end of the first draft.

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