Show vs. show telling
As part of one of my revisions, I’ve gone back to examine a scene in a story to see whether I can get a better effect by having one of the characters recount the events in the scene to another rather than showing them directly. More specifically: rather than showing a fight between a bunch of kids, I’m rewriting the scene to show one of the kids telling his father about the fight later. The difference is in what impact I want the scene to have. The fight itself doesn’t have much tension to begin with; it’s told in flashback anyway, so we know the kid survives and how things turn out with the other kids. The thing I really wanted to give a sense of is the disparity in social standing between our hero and the other kids, and I thought the fight did that well enough. By changing the scene to the kid telling his father, though, I get to show the kid’s perception of the other kids as well as the father’s perception, and as a bonus explore the relationship between the father and his kid, which is something I was trying to bring out more.
Replaying events through a character’s description can be a powerful device, giving you not only the details of the event but revelations about the character in showing what parts he or she chooses to emphasize, gloss over, or leave out. However, it does (of course) rob the scene of any narrative tension (unless, in this case, it’s whether the dad will give his kid a whuppin’ for fighting). It may also rob the scene of critical details, because people in retelling won’t have the narrator’s onmiscient eye, and giving them that eye ends up seeming contrived. “Oh, yeah, Dad, I noticed that their clothes all looked neatly pressed.”
In this case, I think I don’t need all the details (though I’ve already written them and I hate to toss ’em out), and I’d rather show the interaction between the kid and his father. So I hope this will work better.