Show and Tell

Anyone who's taken a creative writing course or read books about writing has run into the protip: Show, don't tell. Indeed, much of the art of narrative prose lies in knowing what to show and when to tell. It's a deceptively straightforward piece of advice.


In the context of flat fiction, this means that the sentence "Lola turned five shades of purple and then smashed her fist through the wall" is better than the sentence "Lola was angry." The first example, while still not superb writing by any means, has more energy and specificity. You can see Lola in your mind's eye, and you understand exactly what's going on.


This principle transfers to video-based media, as well. Why have a character mutter "I don't trust that guy Mac!" when you can show that character double and triple-counting the amount of money in the briefcase? Actions speak louder than words.


You can get too cute with showing, of course. Some writers use this guiding principle as an excuse for overly ornamental language describing settings, characters, props and events without pausing to consider whether they deserve a place in the story at all. On the reverse side of it, sometimes showing is so subtle and coy that it leaves a reader wondering what the heck is going on. Clarity has its place.


Telling in Transmedia


Depending on how you look at it, transmedia is either way big on telling or doesn't do any telling at all. If a character is confiding a deep and abiding adoration for breaking and entry in a blog post, this is telling the audience about the character's predilection for petty crime. There is a whopping big surface layer of telling in most transmedia narratives.


But on the other hand... that same blog post might be showing that the character is an oversharer, or has grown to trust the audience, or is prone to boastful confabulation. As with life, nothing in transmedia is perfectly straightforward. There are layers and layers to every single thing you do as a creator, whether you're managing it consciously or not.


Overlooking the semantics, though... If the point of showing-not-telling is to create emotional power and specificity, there are still better and worse ways to do it. A lot of this ground is already covered under the Conveying Action and Characterization for Transmedia posts. But let's take another look, anyway. Just for kicks. C'mon, it'll be fun.


Showing in Transmedia


"Showing" in transmedia can be interpreted in several different ways.


It can mean showing, literally, by shooting video or photographs instead of writing about it. Not every project has the budget for this, or for not much of it. Sometimes, your structure simply won't permit it, even if you do have the budget and production capacity; you just don't have a way to plausibly get that content to the audience.


Or showing can mean demonstrating that a character, company, or relationship has a quality in a way other than saying so with the mouths of your characters. Why have a character comment on how greedy the board at Sinister Arms Co. is, when you can leak a report about their unsavory business practices to your news outlet? Why announce that a character dislikes another when you can instead Tweet a series of snarky, hyper-critical, or needling comments?


Showing is also something that must trickle into the design of websites, posters, artifacts, letters. Remember way back when I told you to develop a visual sense? Adorning a blog with rainbows and unicorns (or alternatively, death-metal fonts and a blood-spatter background) is the essence of showing and not telling. So is writing a perfumed letter with hearts over each I and a petunia stamp, vs. type-written with an overused ink ribbon and stamped with a metered mail machine.


So showing and telling is just as relevant for transmedia as for flat prose, at least if you ask me. At the risk of repeating myself, every element in a transmedia narrative is an opportunity for showing something about your characters, your world, or your overall dynamics. It can be easy to overlook them or resort to defaults. It can be easy to just write lengthy blog posts telling all the livelong day. But you can probably find a more interesting way to do it if you dig a little deeper.


How about you? Do you have a proud moment of showing rather than telling in a transmedia experience? Do you think I'm applying the adage improperly? And: What other pieces of writing advice would you like to see me tackle in future posts? Let's get this party started!


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