The Romantic on The Romance Reviews

The Romance Reviews

Friday, November 2, 2012

Show AND Tell

Danny Harris once said, "Storytelling: the world's second oldest profession."

I'm inclined to agree, yet I can't help but feel that the world's earliest storytellers didn't do it for profit. Theirs, I believe, was a desire to share a wonderful experience -even if sometimes it was merely an imaginary one- that would be passed down through the ages.

Oral traditions that later came to be etched on the walls of the earth, leaving an indelible impression that would stand the test of time.

Have you ever heard the adage: "If these walls could talk..."?

Well, if they could talk, what would they say?

It could be argued that walls indeed have spoken when we consider the rock art found around the globe from ancient times. The painted symbols from stories on cave walls left by the Australian Aborigines; the cave paintings which date back more than 40,000 years found throughout Europe; the cave art dating to Neolithic times in what is the modern-day Sahara desert that depict lush grasslands and flowing rivers, reveal religious rituals and communicate the details of the lives of our ancestors. Walls have even divulged the passage into the Afterlife as depicted within the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. Silence has proven golden as the whispers of the dead have echoed across millennia to tell us stories of memories long forgotten.

Our purpose as storytellers could be debated as a matter of subjectivity but our goal remains the same: to fulfill a need of our species, which longs to tell and hear/read tales that whisk us away into another realm...a parallel universe that is sometimes quite different from our world.

The evolution of storytelling has gone from oral traditions to visual art, from tales of a bard to the prose of The Immortal Bard, William Shakespeare. Thus, it is imperative for modern storytellers to recognize what is necessary to achieve our end.

To put the matter compendiously, we must show AND tell.

We must utilizes our senses and communicate with our readers through our senses to draw them INTO our stories. Robert Olen Butler, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction who teaches graduate fiction at Florida State University, best described this as "sensual writing."

In the book, From Where You Dream:The Process of Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway shares with us his lectures where he emphasizes that "the point of contact for the reader is going to be an emotional one because emotions reside in the senses."

We must keep this in mind when we're describing our scenes, because if we want our readers to join us then we must do more than merely invite them into our story, we must lure them in. Utilizing our senses to show them the scene, show them the story, not simply tell it, and to do this effectively it is essential that we be a fly on the wall.

The following is an excerpt from my mythopoeic fantasy novel, Magical Universe:The Amulet of Alamin...

An icy breeze rushed through the cave that only Inanna felt, and she knew it was the demon lurking in the shadows for her child. Fear took her; their voices faded, as though she was under water, and suddenly the cave was cloaked in complete darkness. She was suddenly aware that they weren't alone, and the presence she felt, she knew was unnatural. Her breath fogged as it escaped her, and the darkness pressed against her soul like heavy stones upon her chest.

There was no sound. She trembled, looking up to see a grimacing, cruel face looming before her with two eyes piercing her heart; they were cold, and sharp, unblinking. A grip, frozen and unrelenting, seized her throat. The icy touch chilled her to the core and she struggled to breathe while attempting to scream.

Far and faint, the voices of her family called out to her frantically. They seemed to echo from high above, like a lover's last call trapped in a dying dream. Her stare strained against the gloom, but they continued calling more and more anxiously until she escaped the trance and their voices were clear, again.

"Your son must wear this amulet at all times to protect him from the Edimmu, Lilitu, and other demons!" Ereshki said, hastily fastening a leather cord around his neck.

​Inanna caressed the Cuneiform script incised on the tiny tablet attached to the cord. She sought comfort in the spell; the presence of the demon vanished as her cousins helped her to her feet. Ereshki tore strips of cloth from her own garments and carefully, but quickly, wrapped it about the child as he fed. Etana extinguished the flame, and for a brief instant, only their nervous breathing could be heard. The trickle of water along the walls of the tunnels fell behind a curtain of shouting amongst the soldiers who hurriedly searched the caves for them.

End scene.

Don't simply TELL your readers where they must SHOW them where they are if you want them to join the journey and remain entranced by your story. Account for minute details because the smallest things will make the biggest difference, however it is imperative that not over do it. Tell your readers JUST enough detail, show your readers JUST enough detail, and allow them to fill in the blanks with their own imagination.

Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the time of Cholera, is also "noted for leaving out seemingly important details and events so the reader is forced into a more participatory role in the story development."

He'll describe the heat, stench, and poverty-striken neighborhoods of a Carribean port where his stories take place, but the name of the locale isn't provided. In the minds of some this is a seemingly trivial truth, however it remains true and effective because in a strange way I find that it adds to the mysteriousness that draws me into his world.

I admire and strive to emulate the method in which he provides meticulous details that paint a perfect picture in the cinema of my mind: "There was no sleeper more elegant than she, with her curved body posed for a dance and her hand across her forehead." Garcia-Marquez describing Fermina Daza in Love in the Time of Cholera.

I'd like to stress that the phrase "cinema of the mind" is how Robert Olen Butler advises writers to write. Utilize your senses: sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound...think of how you remember things in your memory and your dreams, then translate it with your creativity. When you do this, you will reveal the necessary details that bring your story to life, and will do more than tell your reader a story, you will show them where they are.

Perhaps your prose will paint a picture that will whisper across time.

"In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?" ~Gabrielle Roth, American dancer and musician

No comments:

Post a Comment