Darryl Ayo Brathwaite (nervousystem) wrote,
Darryl Ayo Brathwaite

Show and Tell: interdependent storytelling.

Somebody made a comment which fundamentally misunderstands Si Spurrier’s essay about “telling, not showing.” But since I don’t want to beat the person up in public, I’ll discuss this matter all circumspect.

It isn’t “cheating” to let the text tell a bit of the story. It isn’t “breaking a rule.” Perhaps if one reads shonen and seinen manga exclusively, one might expect every single detail of a comic narrative to be (literally) drawn out. That’s a fine preference. I would recommend, however, not claiming this as a universal writing standard for comics.

What Si Spurrier is talking about in his essay is a little give-and-take. Driving the narrative in turns. Artist drives, writer drives, the narrative vehicle arrives at its destination all the same. It is what Scott McCloud called “interdependent” storytelling. It’s not “cheating,” it’s passing the mic.

There’s more than one way to skin a narrative. Sometimes it pays off tremendously to leave elements to the imagination of the audience, or to pass the driving responsibilities to one’s creative partner.

The isolated, floating text idea that Si Spurrier mentions? That goes back to at least Alex Toth. You think you know how to tell a comics story better than Alex Toth knew? You don’t.

Another idea here is structuring narrative information on a scale of importance. Some concepts are not as important as others. The part of a story when a person begins an aside and stops short, dismissing it with a “Long story.” It points to the idea that some information, while interesting, is not as relevant or pertinent as other information. Meanwhile, it also hints at a world much deeper and richer than the simple world of the primary narrative at hand. It’s a narrative slight-of-hand. It’s the mirrored wall inside of a retail space. It expands the world of the story without actually increasing the space of that world, or increasing the size of the story. If played well, it can be the catalyst of future stories as well. Or the matter can just hang in the air as the perpetual fuel for readers’ imaginations.

"Show don’t tell" isn’t a "rule," it’s a guideline. Thinking that storytelling is this rigid will only make a person a rigid reader. Loosen up.


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