Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Showing and Tell - The Invention of Hugo Cabert

I'm going to start this off with an apology. This post is two weeks late, and I'm sorry. I've been really sick and am just starting to get on the mend. Please forgive my inconsistancies.
Working at a library gives me interesting insight into book popularity. I always know when a movie is based on a book, even when it doesn't seem as obvious. The movie Hugo is based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabert by Brian Selznick (something I didn't realize at first). I did not make it to the movie, but the popularity of Selznick's book meant you couldn't get a copy for three months. Well, the book finally came back without a reservation so I picked it up.

I read the book over the course of a day, and what I took from it (besides being a rather lovely story of a boy, some clocks, a famous filmmaker, and a mystery) was it was an ideal example of when to show and when to tell.

The adage "Show, don't tell" is know through out the writer world, and it's good advice. But sometimes, it can lead to pages of boring conversations about breakfast eating. It's better right?

Cause I'm showing, not telling? Well, sometimes telling is better.

Finding a balance between when to show and when to tell is difficult, but if you look at The Invention of Hugo Cabert, it can help figure out when the time is right.

How does Selznick's story do this? Well, over half the book is literally showing the story with illustrations. Between the illustrations bits of text are peppered, filling in the gaps between the story and the pictures, or just the dialogue the pictures can't communicate. The story doesn't reiterate the pictures with text, but rather uses the pictures to explain what the text cannot. It shows us the most important parts, and tells us the rest in a way that weaves a beautiful story.

Basically, the best parts of the book are very visual, while the less important, but still important, bits are explained. The scenes that Selznick chose to illustrate, the illustrated for a very particular reason. By looking at his choices, we can see why having those scenes visualized made the story more impactful. Then we can look at our stories, and see where we can show more and tell less, or where we can tell more and show less.

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