Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

One of the downsides of being a writer, I think, is the fact that we can become hyper-critical as readers and filmgoers. It’s so much harder for me to get totally absorbed in a story.

One of the things that really pulls me out of a book or movie is when a character acts out of character.

In one book I read recently, the author had gone to great pains to tell how intelligent one character was. The character had experienced great academic success, had a great job, read thought-provoking literature.

All of that gets chucked out the window for me when that same, “smart” character does something really foolish in the book.

It was obvious that the writer had needed the character to do something stupid, just to make the plot move in a particular direction.

To me, this just demonstrates how much more powerful showing is than telling. Sure, you can tell me that this character was summa cum laude, but if the character is blithely heading into a dark cellar when she has a sneaking suspicion that a killer is down there, then you’ve shown me she isn’t so bright.

It’s a good reminder for me, because I’m frequently thinking about ways to convey personality traits, etc., by showing, but I don’t often think about the process the other way around.

What I think I’m going to start looking at when I’m doing edits is, “Have I left the reader an impression about this character that I didn’t intend?” Especially if it contradicts an image that I’m trying to plant.

Because actions can speak louder than words.

Have you run across characters in films or in books that you felt were acting out of character? And, as a side note, is it harder for you, as a writer, to get totally wrapped up in a book or movie without being critical?