Show Don’t Tell
We’ve had requests for a blog along the lines of “But how do we do it?” So I’ll take first whack at it.
Short version? You take a short boring bit that gets you past the messy details and into the part you want to write—and you go back and put in the messy details, especially those emotions you didn’t want to slather all over your beautiful clean manuscript.
I’m not good at explaining, but I can try to demonstrate, first draft to final publication.
So here’s wizard, doing some experimental magical genetic engineering.
Telling—he’s passing it off like practically nothing happened:
“No kidding. Now stop trying to divert me from these longevity genes. You aren’t going to experiment on your own dogs, are you?” Q looked at him suspiciously.
“Yep. I did Lion already. Four hours and he’s fine.” He winced at her glare. “I’m standing by, in case he needs to be switched back, and I have wine.”
Showing—make it hurt:
Xen studied the old dog carefully, found the same gene complexes, and very gently started changing them, one at a time. With pauses in between to check the dog for signs that he had done something Really Bad to his cellular metabolism. When he was done, the old dog didn’t seem any different. Lion heaved himself to his feet and walked stiffly out to circle the sheep. Walked partway back, staggering a bit.
Xen sat up in alarm and trotted out to meet him. The old dog laid down, his head drooped.
“Lion?” Xen sank his awareness into the dog. Wish I could see like a witch . . . He’s very low on energy.
He looked into the bubble he called his backpack. A change of clothes, food, water and the Wine of the Gods.
He pulled out the food, coaxed Lion to eat . . . with minimal success.
He scooped the dog up and traveled to Lady Gisele’s garden. Tried to keep his voice steady. “My first patient seems to be dying. He’s low on energy.”
“Humph. Let’s see.” The old crone reached out to stroke the dog. “Indeed.” She reached over to her shelves and plucked off a bottle.
“That’s maple syrup.”
“Yes, dear, and good source of sugar, to get his gylcogen levels up. Let’s see if he can swallow it . . . Hmm, well, a bit of tubing . . . ”
She plucked plastic tubing from nowhere, and wormed it down Lion’s throat.
“There’s a funnel behind you, third shelf, the small one . . . thank you.”
He go the funnel into the tube and poured a teaspoon of maple syrup into it.
“Now, let’s see what’s happening on the cellular level . . . Oh dear.”
Xen was following her vision as far as he could. Chromosomes writhing about, under attack by his ribozymes, ripping into the right genes and then building up the new ones, grabbing the chemicals needed . . . whether the rest of the cell could spare them or not. Whether the cell needed that gene—old or new version, right then.
Cells were dying, fast. Lots of them.
Everything they tried made it worse.
They couldn’t save him.
Xen spent the rest of the day out on the hills with the sheep and the horses.
Cradling his old dog.
Blackie and Silky crawled up to him, crying.
Quicksilver showed up in the mid-afternoon. Just sat down silently.
“So . . . I was over confident.”
“What were you trying to do?”
He hauled out his spells and let her look them over. “The longevity genes.”
“An essential transformation? Xen . . . that is brilliant work.”
Xen shook his head. “It just tore into the genes and started changing them. It was too fast, too much all at once . . . or maybe those genes are multipurposed to something in basal cell metabolism, that can’t be interrupted.”
She sighed. “I’m better at physics. This stuff . . . I can do it, using other peoples spells. I don’t grasp the significance of possible genetic changes, of how to invent them.”
“I wasn’t really inventing new genes. I was changing the genes at eight specific sites to slightly different genes. Known genes, ones that will work fine.”
“In humans. Maybe not in dogs?”
“The Hell Hounds have some of them. Lion had one copy each of three of them. I just tried to give him the other five, and double pairs. He . . . ran out of glycogen, and the changes were messing up the cell chemistry. Even getting sugar into him didn’t help, and when I tried to stop the process . . . well, the chromosomes started falling apart.” He pet the cold stiff form in his lap. “I killed him.”
Or how about some cross-dimensional scientific cooperation?
A perfectly adequate mention:
“So, your first scientific expedition from another polity – and it had to be them.” Xen grinned across the table at his sister.
She grinned cheerfully back. “And an interesting trio the Arbolians are. Both the men are natural wizards, with enough training to shield their natures from me, if they hadn’t gone and shook hands. The girl has no power genes but a fair collection of the rest. They all seem very smart, and very much what they claim to be, otherwise. One astronomer, one photographic specialist, one guy to keep everything working. In any case, they’re parked up on that hill busy all night and sleeping all day.”
And then showing:
I am an ambassador. They dare not kill me.
Hadley Greene forced himself to walk calmly and steadily across the plaza. Why must they make everything so large? So far away? We should acquire one of those vehicles. One of those limos. A large black one, worthy of my status. Or white for my purity.
They had always said the power had been too weak in him—they had not allowed him to go on to the more advanced training of the priesthood. Thirty years later, the rejection still burned. Especially now, in his maturity, when he understood that his only lack had been money for bribes or political influence on his maternal family’s side.
And now, so poorly trained, I must walk alone into that vipers’ nest of feral gods. I dare not even bring an aide, who could be influenced, ordered to murder me in my sleep some night in the future.
It wasn’t the sun overhead that was making him sweat.
He didn’t allow himself to stop at the road, nor the base of the steps. By the time he reached the top, the double doors were open, and two men . . . no. Two gods. Unchained, uncontrolled, unmastered . . .
I could take one, for my own. The priests would bow before me. Weak? Ha!
He eyed the two gods. The young one. I want him. He swallowed saliva. But not now. No, I’ll have to find him alone, off his guard. Asleep would be best.
He stopped a cautious distance away, stood straight and tall, and raised his chin. “I am Hadley Greene, Ambassador for Arbolia. I require your assistance for a scientific expedition.”
The young one nodded. “I’m sure that we will be delighted to assist you. May I introduce Dr. Quail Quicksilver? She is in charge of Science and Exploration.” He stepped back and gestured invitingly as a young woman stepped forward.
Abomination! A female with power! But that glow is unmistakable. Except, there is no sexual attraction. Of course, abnormal genes. That would explain it. It’s not a True Female. I could take it, transform it into the God of Women. No. The God of Sex.
He was so deep into plots that he nearly forgot to be afraid as he stepped into the den of the deadly wild gods.
“. . . proper scientific study of these dimensions. So we expect your cooperation.” The Arbolian ambassador was watching her with a hungry expression. Sweating.
Q kept her expression politely neutral.
Lust or terror? How can one tell with a hideous perv like this?
And why did the first request for scientific project have to come from them?
The man is a mage of some sort, possibly one of their priests.
I should get a genetic sample for Mother. She talked about these people . . . I thought she was exaggerating.
“I appreciate your interest in science, Ambassador. This looks like a very interesting project. We will support it, and assist as necessary. Have your project people contact me about what they will need.” She stood and extended a hand.
He recoiled . . . stared at her hungrily. “They will contact you.” He turned and walked out.
She glanced suddenly at the corner of the office. A light warp unraveled.
“So, your first scientific expedition from another polity—and it had to be them.” Xen grinned.
She shook her head. “Being over protective, Big Bro?”
“Yeah. I didn’t like the way he salivated when he looked at me and Inso.” He walked to the doorway and grinned back at her. “But he did seem to find you sexy.”
He ducked away from a threatened fireball, and she grabbed a tissue and swabbed the edge of her desk. Maybe Mother can sort out his DNA. She dropped the tissue in a bag and sealed it. I do like plastic. It’s going to be a bigger import category than electronics.
“We need to do a first survey from several wildly different worlds, and analyze the results.” Lord Marius Menchuro of Arbolia was an astronomer. A serious young man, with none of the ambassador’s hunger. He’d shaken her hand without hesitation, as had his assistants.
Trace and Trill Breesdon were brother and sister. Trill was a photographic expert, Trace an expert at keeping everything working.
“Everything” being a twenty-four inch reflecting telescope mounted on a horse drawn wagon, and a huge camera for taking long exposure photographs, and the photographic lab, in addition to a great deal of camping equipment.
Damn. Now this is interesting. Studying the planets, moons and asteroids for changes from world to world.
“Indeed. Let me introduce you to the maze. I think we have everything—every place—you’ll need for this first survey already easily available.”
Another example This time from my eccentric time traveler:
When we landed, I started laying out the plans for two space fighters. Then I had to break for a bit to calm down the accountant and sign some late tax papers and so forth. Good grief. I hired him to not bother me. He calmed down eventually. Until I told him it was going to happen regularly.
Then I had to calm down Natalie and Aura and sign some late tax papers and so forth. Good grief. I’d hired them to not bother me. They calmed down eventually. Until I told them it was going to happen regularly.
“We’ll be away regularly, and come back every September, probably, to recuperate. Just file the taxes.”
“What kind of bloody resort are you?”
“A private one.”
“Your income is from selling rare metals?”
“We like to mine, but it is a bit dangerous. So we needed a nice tranquil spa to come home to.”
Aura crossed her arms, looking a great deal less like a fluffy-head than usual. “We looked all over for you. What is that weird machine in the practically hidden warehouse?”
“A very large three dee printer. Very advanced. Don’t touch it.”
“And the practically hidden airplane hanger?”
“It’s for the airplane. Vertical takeoff and landing, so don’t ask me why I don’t have an airstrip.”
They glowered at me.
I tried again. “Umm, couldn’t find a good batcave?”
So much for popular entertainment . . . But they’d never believe the truth.
Natalie growled. “Sign here and here. Write a check for this amount. Mail it, dammit. Today.”
“And here’s my bill.”
“How about I give you signature authority . . . ”
“No! Doing your paperwork is scary enough! God forbid anyone would think I was a part of your amazingly weird . . . group.”
Go through your manuscript, and hunt down those quick little unemotional spots . . . and tell the whole thing. Bleed on the paper. Or laugh. Just don’t let it lay there, neutral and boring.