Films don’t and can’t use abstract descriptions, generalizations, summaries, analyses or interpretation to let us know how characters feel at any given moment. Narrators don’t tell us that a character is sad, angry, filled with passion, ecstatic, or depressed. Filmmakers have to show those things to us.
Can you picture characters in movies that have these feelings? Can you see, in your mind’s eye a woman who has been told in a staff meeting that she’s been chosen for a promotion? Can you feel the quickening of her pulse, the whooshing in her ears that is her own blood rushing, can you see her self-conscious physical tics, maybe she’s pushing her hair behind her ear or clicking a ballpoint pen, can you feel and see her attempts to control her excitement and her happiness? Can you describe the physical sensations she’s having and exhibiting, without using abstract words?
There is no voice over in a movie to tell us that a character is recently divorced or has been left by his lover and therefore drinks alone every night, orders in from the same Chinese take-out, pops pills to sleep and hasn’t opened his mail in a month, but films can show us all of that within a minute or two.
Do you see the inside of this man’s apartment? The overflowing trash can filled with unread newspapers, empty liquor bottles and Chinese take-out boxes? Did you watch him come in with his mail in his hand and dump it on top of a pile of unopened envelopes on the chipped Formica counter? Did you notice that he’s on a first name basis with the man who delivers his food? Did you see him swallow something from a prescription bottle before he gets into bed and surfs through all night infomercials?
We can learn a lot from movies.
The medium of film allows us partial participation in the characters world through what we can see and hear. We can see the sensual response on the outside of a character’s body through his or her posture, gestures and expressions. We can hear noises and we can learn things through a character’s tone of voice. Our words allow us to explore the story world on a deeper level. We can express emotions by the way they actually feel in very concrete terms. Grief feels like a pressure or palpable weight that literally makes it difficult to breathe. Fear releases adrenaline that tenses our muscles, makes us ready to run, and heightens our awareness of sight and sound. There are physical manifestations that accompany all human emotions.
In fiction, we can also describe smells and we can describe tactile sensations
I tend to think I’m showing and not telling a lot more than I really am. When I read over my work, I am usually surprised to see how many abstract adjectives I’m using and how much more I could show my reader through sensory description.
Do you consciously avoid using abstract descriptions, or are you still working on it, like I am? When you describe a character that is experiencing a specific emotion, do you sit down and mentally try to summon up all of the physical sensations that come with that emotion? How do you show emotion in your work?For extra credit and my undying admiration (I can't think of an actual prize), can you name the movies these pictures come from?