A post on the KillZone Blog sparked a bit o thinking this morning about the difference between graphic and real and the realization that graphic isn't real. Well, a post and a pot of coffee and a lousy show on Netflix last night. We watched about twenty minutes of the show (it will remain nameless but feel free to speculate on your own) before turning it off. The reason? It was insufficient for the writers or producers to get us to use our imagination on the grisly murders. They felt it necessary to take the screen, shove it against our noses, and rub it in the gore. span This offends me. Mostly I attribute it to getting a bit cantankerous as I get older but if I wanted that visceral (and perhaps vicarious?) thrill, I could go to an abattoir. What I wanted was entertainment, what they gave me was a massacre without a reason to care.
The story line wasn't bad (though not original) and the acting was acceptable. The problem was that the writers or the producers had so little faith in the story that they resorted to graphic images to compensate. The other implication, the audience is dull and incapable of appreciating a properly developed story, is just depressing.
It's not the first show that I've tuned out because of this problem and I don't bother going to the movies any more. The dramas are slow and dull, the comedies force the laughs, and action movies no longer require much more that a constant bombardment of explosions. Most of the acting is pretty poor, too. As I said, I'm working on getting cantankerous.
I see it happen in novels, too, as writers confuse being graphic with being real and plot with story. In a bit of heresy, I am reevaluating the age old advice "show, don't tell" because I am beginning to suspect that this particular pendulum has swung too far.
The constant "show, show, show" places the perceptions of the author into the story and, I think (still pondering this) blocks the natural imagination of the reader. Well-built storytelling should blend the showing into, in measured doses, the fabric of the work. I enjoy writers who trust me as a reader to understand the world they built and the people in it and to add my imagination to help bring it to life. Without that trust between the writer and the reader, there are simply words on a page, uninspired and limp.
Writers like Robert Heinlein or Elmore Leonard did a lot of telling, far more so than showing, but were masters of their craft and excellent at the art of storytelling. I'm not sure that either developed plot outlines or large character sketches. They told stories.
What they excelled at was keeping the reader asking, "And then what happened?"