Questionable:How do we know when it’s okay to Tell instead of Show?

Olga asked:
The old writers’ dilemma of ‘show’ vs. ‘tell’. All the writing teachers and textbooks instruct us: “show, not tell,” but many successful writers use ‘tell’ a lot. Georgette Heyer is one of them. There is a lot of ‘tell’ in her novels. I’m not even talking about Jane Austen and other old-timers.
Did this demand of ‘show not tell’ change with time. What was allowed 50 years ago isn’t recommended today? Or are there some universal guidelines? How do we know when ‘tell’ is okay? And how much of it?

First, you can do anything you want. It’s your book. Seriously, if it feels right to tell, tell. Continue reading

Person of Interest: 4C, Character in Crucible

Person of Interest Binge LogoOne of the most heinous crimes a writer can commit in relationship stories is the Big Misunderstanding. After spending many chapters/episodes building a strong relationship that the reader/viewer can invest in, instead of looking at the very real, character-driven problems that might test a bond, the crisis descends into a misunderstanding that any solid relationship would defuse with an intelligent question. If you want a strong story, forget the “I saw you kissing that woman” “That was my sister” stuff; give your relationship a real test, something that just talking won’t solve. That kind of test almost always goes to character: In this situation, no matter how much this character believes in this relationship, he or she has to walk away. Continue reading

Person of Interest: “The Devil’s Share”: Rip-Your-Heart-Out Storytelling

Person of Interest Binge LogoPreviously on Person of Interest:
“The Perfect Mark” is one of those everybody’s-crooked con stories that was probably pretty good, but by this point, the HR story is so compelling that it just got in the way of the good stuff, culminating in the shootout in which Lasky dies, Carter shoots his killer, and gets the dying crooked cop to point out the head of HR: Quinn. Best part of the entire episode: That fistbump between Reese and Carter in the car. It’s a beautiful thing. Continue reading

Person of Interest: “Razgovor:” Establishing Character Through Relationships

Person of Interest Binge Logo I wrote a book once about a depressed divorcee. Well, she perked up fairly quickly, but she was depressed in the beginning. And that taught me a valuable lesson: Never write a depressed protagonist. They’re usually immobilized, unhappy, and frankly, depressing. It’s nice to have a 180 arc, but it’s possible to start too low.

I think the emotionally-stunted Shaw presented the PoI writers with much the same challenge. Shaw isn’t depressed, she just has a personality disorder that makes it difficult for her to feel emotion. And that in turn is why it would be difficult for us to feel emotion for her: there’s nothing for us to relate to.

So why do so many of us love Shaw so much? Continue reading

Person of Interest: “Lady Killer:” Utilizing a Large Recurring Cast

Person of Interest Binge Logo
By the time you get to the third season of a series (or the third novel in a series), you’ve probably built up an embarrassment of cast riches: there are a lot of people your viewer/reader wants to see again. Plus whatever relationship problems or secrets your central cast has are probably ironed out, so when everybody gets together, it’s just fun.

Unfortunately, the last thing an exciting story needs is a lot of shiny, happy people, which is why Person of Interest rips our hearts out halfway through this season and stomps them to a pulp.

But before that, they did some fan service and made use of that wonderful extended cast. Here’s what happened before this episode: Continue reading

Person of Interest: Relevance: Building a Complex Character

Person of Interest Binge Logo Once you have your story world and people in place (usually after the first act), you can start to layer your characters (and your plots and subplots, but that’s tomorrow). By Season Two, everybody knows how the Machine works, that it also works for the government, that the agency it works for is ruthless and doesn’t hesitate to kill anyone it thinks might be a threat to the Machine. At that point, it’s time to change things up. Things are going to get worse, yes, but they’re also going to get more complex. Continue reading

Questionable: Character Chemistry with the Reader

This is another one from Draft Vault, and it included this note: “Somehow I hit “Publish” while this was still in draft form. Therefore, whatever went out in the RSS feed was a rough draft. Sorry about that.” I’m pretty sure I cut almost all of the previous draft, so this shouldn’t be a re-run at all.

Cate M asked:

“Could you do a post on a character chemistry? Not necessarily romantic chemistry, although that would be helpful too. Basically, once you’ve got your checklist of goals, motivation, conflict, how do you make sure the characters are actually fun to spend time with, and better together than they are apart?” Continue reading