Do you talk a lot about yourself, or are you the bottled-up type? Which is better? Which type of person do you suppose is easier for others to know?
Talking a lot about yourself doesn’t necessarily mean that we know the real you. By the same token, being tight-lipped could well make you easy to read. Neither personality type is better, ask me, it is only a matter of how easily, and how well, we sense who you are. What you’re feeling. How you see things.
Thing is, we want to know you. Share your experience. Connect. Find out what we have in common. Know that we are not alone. Are you willing to let us in? Do you feel safe doing so? If you’re an open book, that’s great. If you need time to reveal yourself, that’s fine too. The point today is to understand yourself because how comfortable, and how quickly, you open up is connected to how you handle your characters on the page.
When reading a story, what we want above all things is to connect. Exciting plots and lofty prose are nice in a novel, but the deepest involvement we feel comes from those moments when our hearts fuse with your protagonist’s, and when something happening in the story feels like it is happening to us.
What happens in a story is not happening to us, of course. What characters are going through can seem like it is magically transferred to us but, actually, it’s not. What we read stimulates in us recognition. We associate story experiences with our own real lives and the wealth of feelings that we’ve banked. When an association is strong, we naturally—although incorrectly—ascribe what we feel to the story. Readers make comments such as, “It’s like the author was writing about me!”
Obviously not, but let’s focus on what produces that “as-if” feeling in readers. Back in November here on WU, Dave King gave us a terrific post on immersive POV, in which he edited a scene in which a wedding photographer is coaxing spicier shots from her bride-and-groom subjects. Dave shaped the passage to emphasize the photographer’s thought process, thereby immersing us more completely in her POV.
Today, my question is: How much immersion is effective? What’s the right balance of interior thoughts and feelings versus outward action? This question is often posed as show versus tell. That’s an accurate way to pose it, to a point, but framing the issue as show versus tell leads us to a false value judgment. Either showing or telling must be inherently better, right? (Mostly show gets the nod.)
The truth is that neither is superior, what matters is the effect you are having on your reader; whether your reader is experiencing recognition. Spelling out interior thoughts and feelings can do that, but so can implying those through outward action. However, not just any thoughts and feelings or action will work. There is a trick. Let’s turn to a couple of examples to examine both the benefits and pitfalls of either approach. [Read more…]