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Thread: Four basic ways to present a scene: Show, Recount, Tell, Recall

  1. #1
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    Four basic ways to present a scene: Show, Recount, Tell, Recall

    1. SHOW—presenting in real time a situation as it unfolds
    Example: The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludulm

    The trawler plunged into the angry swells of the dark, furious sea like an awkward animal trying desperately to break out of an impenetrable swamp. The waves rose to goliathan heights, crashing into the hull with the power of raw tonnage; the white sprays caught in the night sky cascaded downward over the deck under the force of the night wind. Everywhere there were the sounds of inanimate pain, wood straining against wood, ropes twisting, stretched to the breaking point. The animal was dying.
    Two abrupt explosions pierced the sounds of the sea and the wind and the vessel’s pain. They came from the dimly lit cabin that rose and fell with its host body. A man lunged out of the door grasping the railing with one hand, holding his stomach with the other.
    A second man followed, the pursuit cautious, his intent violent. He stood bracing himself in the cabin door; he raised a gun and fired again. And again.
    The man at the railing whipped both his hands up to his head, arching backward under the impact of the fourth bullet. The trawler’s bow dipped suddenly into the valley of two giant waves, lifting the wounded man off his feet; he twisted to his left unable to take his hands away from his head. The boat surged upward, bow and midships more out of the water than in it, sweeping the figure in the doorway back into the cabin, a fifth gunshot fired wildly. The wounded man screamed, his hands now lashing out at anything he could grasp, his eyes blinded by blood and the unceasing spray of the sea. There was nothing he could grab, so he grabbed at nothing; his legs buckled as his body lurched forward. The boat rolled violently leeward and the man whose skull was ripped open plunged over the side into the madness of the darkness below.
    He felt rushing cold water envelop him, swallowing him, sucking him under, and twisting him in circles, then propelling him up to the surface—only to gasp a single breath of air. A gasp and he was under again.
    And there was heat, a strange moist heat at his temple that seared through the freezing water that kept swallowing him, a fire where no fire should burn. There was ice, too; an icelike throbbing in his stomach and his legs and his chest, oddly warmed by the cold sea around him. He felt these things, acknowledging his own panic as he felt them. He could see his own body turning and twisting, arms and feet working frantically against the pressures of the whirlpool. He could feel, think, see, perceive panic and struggle—yet strangely there was peace. It was the calm of the observer, the uninvolved observer, separated from the events, knowing of them but not essentially involved.
    2. RECOUNT—presenting a scene from the past through the words of a character
    Example: Hornet Flight by Ken Follett

    “When I came to, I could smell smoke. The aircraft was floating and the starboard wing was on fire. The night was dark as the grave, but I could see by the light of the flames. I crawled along the fuselage and found the dinghy pack. I bunged it through the hatch and jumped. Jesus, that water was cold.”
    His voice was low and calm, but he took hard pulls on his cigarette, drawing the smoke deep into his lungs and blowing it out between tight-pursed lips in a long jet. “I was wearing a life jacket and I came to the surface like a cork. There was quite a swell, and I was going up and down like a tart’s knickers. Luckily, the dinghy pack was in front of my nose. I pulled the string and it inflated itself, but I couldn’t get in. I didn’t have the strength to heave myself out of the water. I couldn’t understand it—didn’t realize I had a dislocated shoulder and a broken wrist and three cracked ribs and all that. So I just stayed there, holding on, freezing to death.”
    There had been a time, Digby recalled, when he thought Bart had been the lucky one.
    “Eventually Jones and Croft appeared. They’d held on to the tail until it went down. Neither could swim, but their Mae Wests saved them, and they managed to scramble into the dinghy and pull me in.” He lit a fresh cigarette. “I never saw Pickering. I don’t know what happened to him, but I assume he’s at the bottom of the sea.
    He fell silent. There was one crew member unaccounted for, Digby realized. After a pause, he said, “What about the fifth man?”
    “John Rowley, the bomb-aimer, was alive. We heard him call out. I was in a bit of a daze, but Jones and Croft tried to row toward the voice.” He shook his head in a gesture of hopelessness. “You can’t imagine how difficult it was. The swell must have been three or four feet, the flames were dying down so we couldn’t see much, and the wind was howling like a bloody banshee. Jones yelled, and he’s got a strong voice. Rowley would shout back, then the dinghy would go up one side of a wave and down the other and spin around at the same time, and when he called out again his voice seemed to come from a completely different direction. I don’t know how long it went on. Rowley kept shouting, but his voice became weaker as the cold got to him.”
    Bart’s face stiffened. “He started to sound a bit pathetic, calling to God and his mother and that sort of rot. Eventually he went quiet.
    3. TELL: you, the author, tell it as it is. No real-time showing, no presenting through dialogue—just you, the author talking to the reader.

    Example: Strangers by Dean Koontz

    Jacob lived to see her get her first degree, was sallow and weak when she received her medical degree, even hung on tenaciously until she had served six months of her internship. But after three bouts of recurring pancreatitis, he developed pancreatic cancer, and he died before Ginger had finally made up her mind to go for a surgical residency at Boston Memorial instead of pursuing a career in research.
    Because she had been given more years with Jacob than she had been given with her mother, her feelings for him were understandably more profound, and the loss of him was even more devastating than the loss of Anna had been. Yet she dealt with that time of trouble as she dealt with every challenge that came her way, and she finished her internship with excellent reports and superb recommendations.
    She delayed her residency by going to California, to Stanford for a unique and arduous two-year program of additional study in cardiovascular pathology. Thereafter, following a one-month vacation (by far the longest rest she had ever taken), she moved East again, to Boston, acquired a mentor in Dr. George Hannaby (chief of surgery at Memorial and renowned for his pioneering achievements in various cardiovascular surgical procedures), and served the first three-quarters of her two-year residency without a hitch.
    Then, on a Tuesday morning in November, she went into Bernstein's Deli to buy a few items, and terrible things began happening. The incident of the black gloves. That was the start of it.
    4. RECALL: Events presented through a character remembering them in his mind
    Example: The Stand by Stephen King. Mr. King not only disguises his telling by presenting it as recounting—it even allows him to lecture people on showing and not telling.

    His mind began to drift away again, mulling over the last nine weeks or so, trying to find some sort of key that would snake everything clear and explain how you could butt yourself against stone walls for six long years, playing the clubs, making demo tapes, doing sessions, the whole bit, and then suddenly make it in nine weeks. Trying to get that straight in your mind was like trying to swallow a doorknob. There had to be an answer, he thought, an explanation that would .allow him to reject the ugly notion that the whole thing had -been a whim, a simple twist of fate, in Dylan's words.
    He dozed deeper, arms crossed on his chest, going over it and over it, and mixed up in all of it was this new thing, like a low and sinister counterpoint, one note at the threshold of audibility played on a synthesizer, heard in a migrainy sort of way that acted on you like a premonition: the rat, digging into the dead cat's body, munch, munch, just looking for something tasty here. It's the law of the jungle, my man, if you're in the trees you got to swing . . .
    It had really started eighteen months ago. He had been playing with the Tattered Remnants in a Berkeley club, and a man from Columbia had called. Not a. biggie, just another toiler in the vinyl vineyards. NeilDiamond was thinking of recording one of his songs, a tune called "Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?"
    Diamond was doing an album, all his own stuff except for an old Buddy Holly tune, "Peggy Sue Got Married;" and :maybe this Larry Underwood tune. The question was, would Larry like to come up and cut a demo of the tune, then sit in an the session? Diamond wanted a second acoustic guitar, -and he liked the tune a lot.
    Larry said yes.
    The session lasted three days. It was a good one. Larry met NeilDiamond, also RobbieRobertson, also RichardPerry. He got mention on the album's inner sleeve and got paid union scale. But "Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?" never made the album. On the second evening of the session, Diamond had come up with a new tune of his own and that made the album instead.
    Well, the man from Columbia said, that's too bad. It happens. Tell you what- why don't you cut the demo anyway. I'll see if there's anything I can do. So Larry cut the demo and then found himself back out on the street. In L.A. times were hard. There were a few sessions, but not many.
    He finally got a job playing guitar in a supper club, crooning things like "Softly as I Leave You" and "MoonRiver" while elderly cats talked business and sucked up Italian food. He wrote the lyrics on scraps of notepaper, because otherwise he tended to mix them up or forget them altogether, chording the tune while he went "hmmnmm-hmmmm, ta-da-hmmmm," trying to look suave like TonyBennett vamping and feeling like an asshole. In elevators and supermarkets he had become morbidly aware of the low Muzak that played constantly.
    Then, nine weeks ago and out of the blue, the man from Columbia had called.
    Last edited by dondomat; 06-03-2014 at 01:40 PM.

  2. #2
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    Sorry, I'm having a hard time trying to understand how the terms "Recount" and "Recall" should be alongside Showing and Telling in terms of presenting a scene.

    Just like with your other tips thread, I don't think I'm getting enough explanation to help me understand your point. While I can see what you mean by "presenting" a scene, I'm unsure if you know the difference between presenting and narrating a story is and the differences between a scene and exposition is. There just seems to be a mash-up of a lot of terminology that's crossing a lot of line for me. Or perhaps I'm crossing those lines and causing sparks with myself since I don't have enough strong explanation to straighten my thoughts out.

  3. #3
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    These are four different ways to describe any specific event:
    1)as real-time "showing",
    2)as "telling" by narrator,
    3)through character dialog,
    4)through character memory.
    I called them what I called them. Anyone can call them anything they like. They can call them Bart Simpson 1, Bart Simpson 2, etc.
    You muse on your manuscript, and a scene takes form--a dragon swoops down on a herd and snatches a cow in its claws and flies away, but a meteor takes it down mid-flight. There are four basic ways to describe this scene.
    1)as real-time "showing" --a character witnesses it happening in real-time
    2)as "telling" by narrator --the author addresses us tells us how it happened
    3)through character dialog -- character A tells character B how it happened
    4)through character memory --a character remembers how it happened
    Last edited by dondomat; 06-03-2014 at 03:39 PM.

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