Posted by: victanguera | July 30, 2008

Show Don’t Tell

You know the drill. When writing a scene, we are to show the action, not tell about it. Sometimes in the middle of a word count push it is easy to tell about something instead of showing it. For example, when I first wrote my NaNo, one scene had the following:

“Three weeks ago, maybe a month, okay,” he glanced behind me at Nikolai, his eyes shying away in fright. Maybe he did know we were vampires. Drugs may have given him more vision that even he wanted. I’d scoured the street people asking for information on how long Thia had been in residence in the old hotel. They had lost their home, and I needed to know how long ago they had been forced out.

After re-writing, much better:

Nikolai surveyed the crowd outside the hotel. While we were inside, they had once again congregated around the stairs. “That one,” he said, and walked towards a dirty man. He looked no different from the rest of them.
“Someone was in the hotel last night.” Nikolai’s gaze was piercing, but the fellow’s eyes darted His eyes darted nervously between us, and he refused to make eye contact. I wondered if he knew we were vampires. He wiped the back of his hand over his runny nose. Yuck. “How long were they here?”
“Don’t know.” He rocked back and forth on his heels. “Wasn’t here. Don’t know.” He turned to leave and Nikolai grabbed him by his shirt collar. Nikolai spun him to face us. The man’s eyes grew wide and he shook his head from side to side. “No, no. Don’t. Please, please.”
“Speak,” Nikolai commanded. I thought Nikolai rolled his mind when the fellow started to babble.

“Three weeks, maybe a month, okay,” he glanced at Nikolai, his eyes shying away in fright. Maybe he did know we were vampires. Maybe drugs gave more vision than even he wanted.

“Tell me about them. How many were there?” We needed to know if they were working together and infighting had broken out, or if it was something else.
“I don’t know,” he whined, wiping his nose with the back of his hand again. Hopefully he would be so scared after this he would seek rehab. He looked nervously around him, like he was afraid of the shadows. If he saw anything during the last month, I could understand that. My teeth were itching again, but I was not going to bite him. Who knew what ugly diseases he had. I didn’t think his blood was overly clean.
Nikolai sighed in frustration, and I placed a hand on his arm. “Let me try,” I said. “Come sit down.” I pointed towards the stairs, and the man followed me gratefully, glancing at Nikolai with wide eyes as he did so.
“Where did you sleep while she was here?” I asked him, trying for sympathy.
“Just around. There aren’t options if you live on the street.” There were plenty of options, but when you are desperate, it wouldn’t seem like it.
“You slept in the hotel before then?” He nodded. “And recently, did you sleep near here?” If he wasn’t in the area, he might not have seen anything.
“Yeah. Some.” He glanced around “Mostly. But there were so many of those big ugly guys,” he glanced at Trog. “Sorry. There were about six of them maybe.”
“Is that all you saw?”
“No, there was that creepy woman. I think she ate people.” He leaned in and whispered the last to me, but we all heard it. Yeah, that sounded like Thia. “Lacy disappeared one night. A couple of days later, there were bones outside. That’s when most everyone else split.” He paused and glanced around nervously again. “Except for me. I didn’t go. I haven’t got anywhere else to go.” He was whining again, but I didn’t blame him. I thought he’d be too afraid to say any more.
“Yeah, go one. Anyone else,” I promted.
“No one came out during the day, only at night.” That made sense. Trolls don’t like the sunlight any more than vampires, and ghouls aren’t much better. He scratched his head in thought, and white flakes drifted to the ground. I tried not to think about the filth. “I took to sleeping in the dumpster over there.” He pointed to a bin tucked into the corner of a building near by. Trash spilled out the sides and I wondered when the city had last come by for pick up. Not that it was any of my business.
“Good place to keep an eye on things,” I commented. “You must have seen something.”
He glanced us again, the look of fear back on his face. “Vampires, like you. Lots of them,” he whispered. He grabbed the corner of my coat, and I fought the urge to cringe. Or think about how dirty he was. “Protect me from them, please.” His howl was one of pure misery. What were we running, a home for strays? First a troll, now a homeless man. But I couldn’t leave him on the street at the possible mercy of strange vampires. Even I’m not that cruel.
“How many is lots?”

He scratched his head again. I wished he would stop doing that—the dirt bothered me. “I don’t know, less than ten, but more than you guys here.”

There, I think that’s better.


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