Every writer knows they have to show not tell what’s happening in their story. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty, at one time or another, of reporting our scenes rather than living them. I’ve tried very hard to pay close attention to show-don’t-tell as I move my characters through their scenes. Yet, I recently received a critique that mentioned “…it seems to me that they (my three narrators) report the events in a very episodic fashion.”
I’ve been chewing on this for a week or so and this morning, have come across an article from Writer’s Gym and an interesting essay, Animate a Three-Dimensional World, by Catherine Bush. I love when the right article comes across my desk or computer screen at precisely the right time. After reading this short essay, I now believe I know how to bring life to my scenes.
In my attempt to stage my scenes, I’ve been moving my characters through a two-dimensional world. What I in fact, need to do is animate my fictional world and populate it with three-dimensional characters who live in a three-dimensional world. I have to 3-D my fictional world.
It’s not enough to simply move characters, describing the actions they take along the way. With this in mind, I see what my instructor meant when he commented I should “…leapfrog over much of the quotidian and unimportant domestic moments and details and obvious staging (e.g., dishwashing, tea drinking, turning on stoves, making phone calls…which bring nothing to the story).” To do this, he’s suggested I bring my narrators up and out to give them a wider view of their lives. Another way of saying, 3-D them.
We want readers to imagine our characters, and their environments, as having literal solidity and depth. Catherine Bush
Fair enough. Okay, how?
Create a visual shift and move the reader’s eye and attention—high to low, near to far. In doing this, the writer creates a sense of depth.
Show a scene through something—through a smeared window or heat rays rising off hot asphalt. Draw an image of something frail or transparent moving over something more solid—a child observing his world as flickering candlelight waves off his bedroom walls. Make your reader experience your characters world, a woman walking with the worn inner lining of her shoe rubbing against her heel, the edge of a glass top table pressed against his forearm. It’s not enough to ask, what does my character hear, feel? The writer should also ask, what else do they hear, feel? Distant voices raised in another room while a radio plays in the foreground, the feel of wet seeping through a damp cotton shirt. By weaving in these 3-D details, the writer brings depth to a character’s world.
I love the idea of layering my scenes. In my first draft, I report what I want my reader to see, then on subsequent drafts I can move my reader’s eyes up, down and all around. Easy as pie.
As I finish the short story I’ve been having a fling with, and I’m about to travel downtown to pick up the hard copy edits of the first 75 pages of my novel, I now feel like I have direction and look forward to implanting some 3-D effects into my work.