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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Implying rather than showing

   
Author Topic: Implying rather than showing
Monolith
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I have something that is implied in my story. It is a very horrible thing, but I leave it up to the reader to decide for themselves.

Now the question is: If it is used right, will implying something make a bad guy seem even worse? (If you want to know what it is, you'll have to wait until I'm done with my rough draft.)

Just wondering

-Monolith-


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rjzeller
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I know what this "bad thing" is you're referring to, and all I can say is this:

If you're worried about making a bad guy seem even worse, you will.

If you're worried about turning off the audience, you won't.

That's really all there is to it.


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wbriggs
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I think implying something like that is fine, as long as the reader gets it. I don't see that it will make bad guy seem better or worse, but it makes YOU seem better if you won't casually describe something absolutely horrible -- at least, it would to me.
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Lord Darkstorm
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For some reason certain things go over better unsaid. I can't tell you I like it that way, but for some reason if you don't say some unpleasant things readers don't get as upset. When you confront them with the brutal concept in the story, it is not taken very well. Only implying can even make readers enjoy the story more, although I don't understand why...
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wbriggs
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I can give you some reasons this works for me.

* Squeamishness: tell me you had surgery and I'm fine, but show me slice-by-slice and I will definitely skip. I don't like being nauseated!
* Some images, I just don't want in my head.
* Sometimes almost saying it is a way to get an even more powerful emotional impact. Compare these two endings to a narration about someone with an unexpected heart attack and a personal tragedy.

"They had to keep him in the hospital longer, because of something he did to his wrists"

"he tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists, so they kept him in for observation"

I like #1 better, because it sneaks up on me. #2 is more a blunt instrument.


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MCameron
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I don't know, Will. That last set of examples seems to me more like an ordering difference. Look what happens when you mix and match those two sentences:

"They had to keep him in the hospital longer, because he tried to kill himself by slashing his wrists"

"He did something to his wrists, so they kept him in for observation."

They have pretty much the same effect on me as your sentences.

Personally, I prefer to hint at things that would be very graphic if shown directly. But sometimes I go ahead and show it because I want to produce a strong reaction in my reader. But it is something that can easily be overused.

--Mel


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Survivor
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The essential feature of text is that the reader has to imagine everything anyway. So "implying" something is fine. As long as you don't create confusion about what happened, it's okay to leave out a few details.

In some views, this is the essential feature of a strong style, to say what needs to be said and nothing that doesn't need to be said. Of course, you'll run into trouble if you put down a lot of details that are less important than what you "imply". That makes your style inconsistent, because as a general rule "the enumeration of" details shall "be construed to deny or disparage others" which were not enumerated. Unless the contrary is specifically stated


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Valtam
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I think you should also think about how you want to characterize your narrator. Would the narrator go into a bit more detail? Of course, you shouldn't go into a medically accurate description of a horrific murder, but maybe reveal a few of the details. Unless you want to use the implied action later on, maybe make the readers think that the antagonist commited the brutal murder when he, in truth, didn't.
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Christine
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This is so near something I've been thinking about that I'm going to push the topic out further, if you don't mind.

There is a spectrum. On one side, you have the author showing every tiny little thing, spelling it out as to a 3-year-old.

On the other side, you have nonsense, with so much left to the reader to interpret that it is unintelligible to any but English professors who tell the rest of us what to think about the piece and drive me nuts with it. And really, they're just pretending.

In between is a place of perfect harmony, in which the reader is challenged to use their imagination but in a guided manner.

The difficulty you have with that perfect spot is that no two readers will put it in the same place. I often receive critiques in which someone doesn't understand something, doesn't make a connection that everyone else made. In fact, I've learned that there are a few readers who simply need more spelled out to them.

And then I had to make a decision...to whom am I writing? I decided, in the end, that it was to a smarter class of people, to the ones with the abilities to make inferences nad use their imagination.

That sayd, these inferences need to be used carefully. If it's too important, you have to show it. Also, I don't think that inferences should be a matter of vague wording. The wrist-slashing example, in my opinion, should be spelled out. Why would you pussy-foot around? That's not challenging my imagination so much as trying to protect my innocent eyes form the sigh of blood. (Of course, sometimes your audience will demand that...I'm just not in that audience. )

On the other hand, you know details about characters that never get put in the book...things we can only imagine. This happens, in part, because we often write in 3PLO. Some of the things the bad guy does, some of his motivations, will work best in my imagination.

This is getting long and I'm going to stop typing now.


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JmariC
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I apoligize if any of the examples offend, please read at your discretion.

Example a) physical description
"She gave me a look that would curdle milk."

"She narrowed her eyes and looked at me with a pinched frown and a furrowed brow."

Example b) sexually oriented description
"Her costume left little to the imagination."

"Her costume was made of a strip of terry cloth across her breast and a pair of breeches cut level with her crotch."

Example c) Horror/violent scene description
"It was a brutal scene of blood and gore."

"The room was coated with blood, bits of flesh and bone was scattered across the room in pieces so small as to unrecognizable."


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Spaceman
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I imply things all the time in my writing, and I'm always worried that the reader will miss it until I send it out for critique and poeple mention it. Your reader is not stupid, but your reader may be uninformed. Just make sure you have the information needed to support the implications and you'll be okay.
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wbriggs
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As usual, Survivor cuts right to the heart of it.

[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited August 27, 2005).]


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Mechwarrior
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Like Survivor said, implication is part of the reading process.

I've read comments from authors saying that good implication/inference is what people want. Describing the moments before a sex scene is more satisfying to most people than the sex scene (which is why romance novels are 200 pages instead of 20)


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