Showing Not Telling

In the Jeopardy, Conflict and Stakes section of the book, I talk about keeping these elements present in the story and “on page” as much as possible.

I go on to explain that when you add new (bigger) complications or problems to the story, you need to keep them connected to the central dilemma or antagonistic force.

My example in the book has two characters racing across the Nevada desert in a stolen car. A meteor hurtles towards the Earth and the two MCs head to a news station to broadcast the fact, that the meteor is actually the front to an alien invasion.

Showing how to keep complications/problems connected to the central dilemma, I say “Don’t have the radio come on and announce the outbreak of a disease that’s turning everyone into zombies. That’s a complication unconnected to the central problem of the story–instead, have the radio announce the military is now setting up roadblocks on all major roads, to enforce new curfews and find a number of rogue scientists trying to spread disinformation (that would be the MCs).”

This example illustrates the point that I was trying to make, but it bothered me the moment I wrote it, because it’s also a good example of something else to avoid wherever possible–something central to storytelling–telling not showing.

OK, radio bits have been used plenty of times in books and movies. They’re a quick way to key the audience into something and focusing on: the character’s reaction to the info, the comictography of the panel, or the mise-en-scene, you can capture high levels of emotion and make it work.

But, if you have the space in the comic, a much more powerful approach would be to abandon the radio bit and cut from the characters racing along in their car, to the actual roadblock.

Show the military dragging someone out of their car, barking about the curfew and abrasively demanding their ID. The completely terrified driver tries to explain they’re a fourth grade teacher and that they’re just trying to get home to grandma’s.

Meanwhile, in the background a heavily armed soldier screams for back up, throwing a woman against her car and drawing his weapon. “We’ve got one! A biologist from the University of Nevada.”

As a group of soldiers drag the woman away, past the commander she demands to know what’s going on. “Apparently there’s been some threats against local news stations. Some of your colleagues are trying to put the public in panic over the meteor. Orders are to detain all civis with scientific credentials… sorry lady.”

So in the latter example we’ve just relayed all the same information as the radio broadcast, but we’ve done it by showingby taking the audience into the information we wanted to relay and allowing them to experience it first hand.

Always “show.”

If you’re going to “tell”, be aware that you’re telling… and have a damn good reason for doing it.▪

About the Author —
Nick Macari is a full-time freelance story consultant, developmental editor and writer, working primarily in the independent gaming and comic markets. His first published comic appeared on shelves via Diamond in the late 90’s. Today you can find his comic work on comixology, amazon and in select stores around the U.S.  Visit for social media contacts and news on his latest releases.

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© 2016 Nick Macari. No reproduction without written permission.