Writing Observation: Know When to Rip Up the Check

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.

torn checkIn the scene, Saul opens his mail, pulls out a check, stares at it for a second, and–without much fuss–tears it into multiple pieces.

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.

yay-15489344When 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.



13 responses to “Writing Observation: Know When to Rip Up the Check

  1. Great post, Sharon! Loved it and so true. 🙂 I need to watch “Better Call Saul” since I loved “Breaking Bad” so much.

  2. Great advice, Sharon 🙂

    On the other hand, I was pissed off that “Better Call Saul” was on at 10 right after The Walking Dead which meant The Talking Dead came on at 11:00… It was just for one week, so I let it go and recorded the Talking Dead.

    Seriously, good post – I think we can learn a lot from certain shows on TV and how they are written and then directed, acted and put in front of us.

  3. Terri-Lynne DeFino

    Exactly this. E.X.A.C.T.L.Y.
    Good observations, Sharon!

  4. Yes! I’m editing the beginning of my novel right now and this is exactly what I am trying to master. Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. Great advice! I’m working on doing that more.

  6. Perfect, vivid example..ripping up the check. And, thanks for the reminder — “don’t hand out all the goodies in one fell swoop.”

    • You’re welcome, Kristi. I’m going to keep that vivid visual burned in my brain while I work from now on. So easy to understand, not as easy to do. Happy writing and thanks for stopping by!

  7. Pingback: Writing Observation: Know When to Rip Up the Check | Aubrey Wynne

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