I had an interesting experience this last weekend. I would like to share it with all my writing friends. It will mean more to those of you who have been lectured about the importance of SHOW not TELL, but it was an eye opener for my non-writing friends as well.
In my little corner of the Mojave desert, our local movie theatres have been taken over by a larger conglomerate known as Megaplex Theatres. This has greatly improved the movie going experience for a lot of people, but most remarkably for both the visually and hearing impaired.
Megaplex provides a service of closed captioning for the hearing impaired. They also provide DVS for the blind.
DVS stands for Descriptive Viewing Service. It is a hand held device that sync's up with the on-screen movie but includes a voice giving a vocal description of the scenes.
This can be incredibly annoying for people who can see the screen. You have a voice in your ear telling you every detail of the scene. If you are blind, like me, it allows a person to imagine what the scene looks like when they can't see it. It makes movies accessible for the blind in ways they never have been before.
I have only experienced a few movies in this format. I prefer to go to a movie with someone, listen and pick up what I can, and then ask questions when necessary. Lately though, a number of recent releases are nearly impossible to watch this way. Too little dialogue, visually stimulating cinematic work and plot points being made with music and sound effects.
I am not complaining. Movies are made for the sighted. It is a visual experience, but with the addition of the DVS service I got to experience one movie both with the descriptors and without.
Here is the part that sent my writers mind reeling.
I went to ...a movie about a super human male, described as made of steele. Following me?
I was familiar with the basic storyline, the dialogue was good, and from the sound track I could tell it was fast paced and exciting. My husban and date for the night, tried to fill me in on what was happening but found it too difficult to describe the nuances of the facial expressions.
One of the most powerful scenes has our hero less than super-human but still sacrificing his all to save mankind. There is a large lazer beam weakening him, a ship from his home planet taking all his powers, and a deep sense of humanity driving him to stop the villans from the destruction of his adopted home.
Sounds great, right? That's all I've got to tell you about it. Even in the descriptive version, that I was later able to listen too, I can imagine the scene, but I can't feel its power. All I have is what I was told. I didn't get to see. My husban tried to explain the intensity of emotion that came through because of the look on our hero's face. He tried to relate it to something I would have seen, back when I could see. It was interesting...but he couldn't show me what I needed.
So many times we are told by our critiquers or editors. "Show me don't tell me." We grind our teeth, shake our heads, and can't for the life of us figure out why they can't see it the way we, as the writers do.
After having this experience with the movies, I think i finally understand. Look at the difference.
-Joe puts down his cup and shakes a splash of coffee off of his hand. "Ow, that's hot.
-A searing tongue of fire crawled across the back of Joe's knuckles. The overflowing cup steamed into the damp morning air as he tried to chase the wave of coffee from his hand. "What's with the java lava?"
Setting aside my other writing issues, Can you see the difference? Can you feel it?
Often times I am more connected to my characters other senses: touch, smell, sound. But, I struggle to show all the necessary elements that take a scene from a description, to a living moving experience.Great literature does that for me and shows me how to do it better in my own writing. I think that is the reason I prefer to read instead of listen to movies or television. Great writers are show-offs.
-Orson Scott Card
-Mary Higgins Clark
Just to list a few.
I am grateful for the chance to experience the movies in a way that brings them more to life. I think the hard work that goes into making visual experiences available to the blind should be highly commended and Megaplex Theaters should be given credit for their hard work in this area. Once again I'm not complaining, especially since I learned so much from this movie theater experience.
So....the next time you are writing a scene, don't try to describe it to your reader. Put yourself in the scene. What do you feel, smell, hear, and see, and then SHOW it off.