The other night, I put on “Better Call Saul”, a spin-off from the AMC hit show “Breaking Bad.” Mid-program, I found myself paying less attention to Candy Crush, and more attention to the television.
This simple slice from Saul’s day made me think about the craft of writing and everyone’s favorite rule, “show, don’t tell.” Showing a written scene is more active, but did you ever think about how showing can be used to build suspense, too?
When Saul ripped that check, I wanted NEEDED to know why.
As a viewer, I’ve been told nothing else. I’m left curious and must sit there to learn more.
The next scene, Saul doesn’t disappoint. He walks into an upscale law office, where a bunch of lawyers are waiting for him in a conference room. He tosses the pieces of the check on the table and says, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
This is the part of storytelling when writers are tempted to eek out a few facts. Toss in a “tell” to establish the back story and let the reader understand what’s going on. But if you simply let the conversation play out, you can lead the audience into a deeper labyrinth, almost put them in the room with these people. Where you don’t tell a thing, and, hopefully make readers want to wade in further.
Which is exactly what the writers of this show did. I got some answers, but the scene left me with more questions. So guess what? I’ll watch the next episode…I’ll turn the page.
When writing, don’t hand out all the goodies in one fell swoop. Not once during the show did the action stop so Saul could narrate to me why that check mattered. Everything fell out organically, as if I were a pesky fly, who buzzed into the conference room and observed from a distance. Make your readers want to hang around to learn more. Even lose some sleep because they can’t put your book down.
Give the readers just enough to keep them wanting more. Like Saul, know when to rip up the check and walk out of the room.