Show, Don’t Tell

The concept “show, don’t tell” separates the good from the bad.  It is the one lesson that I could never grasp in writing class.  I always wanted to “tell.”  It’s so much quicker than showing.  And that is why I have yet to become a successful writer.  I just don’t know how to “show.”

This is the same thing that the new TNT series, Falling Skies, suffers from. Falling Skies doesn’t “show.”  Instead, it “tells” way too much.  For example, why was there a whole dialogue on what the main character’s son wanted to wish for his birthday? Wouldn’t it have been better to bypass the whole dialogue on birthday wishes, and instead, have the son “show” with facial expressions and body movement what his wish was?  Sure, we, the audience, would have to guess what he was wishing.  But guess what–anyone in their right mind would know what someone, child or adult, would wish in an apocalyptic world!

Another irritating scene came when the doctor argued with the leader on why the civilians were not able to stay in the homes.  Wouldn’t it have been so much better to SHOW us this, with the military personnel moving into homes, while the civilians looked on?  Show us the peoples’ reactions.  Yet, we never saw this.  I never even knew that that was what was happening until the doctor argued with the military leader. Another powerful storyline wasted by “telling.”

“Showing” is what a show like AMC’s The Killing does so well.  It shows us what people feel.  It never tells us.

AMC’s The Walking Dead also “shows.”  Not on the level of The Killing, but it still does a pretty good job of it.  Some have argued that Falling Skies is far superior to The Walking Dead.  The ratings would certainly agree as more people have tuned in to watch Falling Skies.  It’s not surprising, though, because more people can handle aliens than they can zombies. More people have watched ET than Return of the Living Dead. Zombies are part of the horror genre, while aliens are sci-fi.  Aliens can be defeated; I have yet to see an alien movie in which the humans have not triumphed in the end.  On the other hand, in most zombie movies, the zombies are the last ones standing.  The heroes in zombie movies are either nuked, killed, or eaten.  Zombie movies are depressing; alien movies end up being inspirational.

I judge TV shows and movies based on two things–does it hold my attention and how does it make me feel?  When I watch The Walking Dead and The Killing, I am on the edge of my seat.  The Walking Dead makes me anxious, scared for the main characters because they might get chomped on at any moment.  The Killing makes me sad and depressed, much like a Greek tragedy, at the same time it makes my mind race.  Both shows are over before I know it.

On the other hand, Falling Skies fails to invoke an emotion in me other than ambivalence.  It fails to make me anxious.  The aliens hardly seem to be around, and the gravity of the apocalyptic situation the characters are in hardly seems to show. They were able to set up shop in a school!  Where were the aliens then?  300+ survivors seems to be a far stretch if these aliens mean to destroy the world.

Furthermore, it fails to make me sad or depressed.  The son’s girlfriend just got caught by aliens.  Big deal.  If this show was edgy, the aliens would have killed her instantly, and the show would then explore the actions and consequences the son takes as he is guided purely by emotion.  Instead, I’m pretty sure that the girlfriend will be rescued and all will be well.

I was extremely excited to watch Falling Skies when I first saw a preview for it.  Now that I have seen three episodes, I am no longer excited.  But I will keep watching.


One Response to “Show, Don’t Tell”

  1. chelsea Says:

    good post! i have to still catch up on “the killing”! but i do know a show loved by you must be a bad ass show!

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