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Do you have to show the reaction? : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Do you have to show the reaction?

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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DrG2
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Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby DrG2 » Wed Jul 09, 2014 12:18 am

Let's say something really dramatic happens, and that's the end of the scene. Do you need to show the reaction before moving to the next scene.

A couple of examples:
Police arrive at door and tell mother her son was killed in a car crash, and would like her to come down to the morgue and I.D. the body. Do you need to show the immediate reaction? The reader should know that she's devastated. Or can you cut straight to the morgue scene in the next chapter?

Guy tells girl that he never wants to see her again, and he's blocking her phone calls, and he walks away. Reader knows she's pregnant with guy's baby. Does writer need to show those next few seconds of her life, or can they cut to their next scene, the next day.


In other words, does the reader need to see it in order to feel it? I'd like to think the reader can put themselves in the character's place, and feel what they'd be going through without my telling them. I can, but I'm not sure about the average reader.

or in other words, can we count on the reader's empathy?

Laycrew
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Re: Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby Laycrew » Wed Jul 09, 2014 12:45 am

I guess if you don't show the reaction, you are trusting we will make certain assumptions of what the reaction would be but what if the police arrive at the door and the mother slams the door in his face, or begrudgingly grabs her purse and mumbles expletives over how inconsiderate her son is for making her leave the house at such an ridiculous hour because he always was such a waste of her time.

You do need to share the reaction. That's when you pull the reader into the story and how they find a way to emotionally connect to your character-or despise them for being a jerk.

Maybe there are times you don't need to share the reaction because that isn't part of the story that's important, but if that is the case, why is that scene a part of the story? Is it relevant?

Gooblink
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Re: Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby Gooblink » Wed Jul 09, 2014 8:41 am

My son, a musician and avid reader, calls it "ending on the seventh." In music, it creates an "open" effect in the melody.

Personally, I really like endings to chapters or scenes that allow the reader to fill in the next note, so to speak. As Laycrew observed, though, whether or not to show reaction depends on the story.
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mammamaia
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Re: Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby mammamaia » Wed Jul 09, 2014 9:43 am

no, you don't... it all depends on the story and the characters... if you have good reason for showing it, that makes doing so necessary, go ahead... otherwise, don't worry about it...
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Re: Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby MookyMcD » Wed Jul 09, 2014 10:05 am

I'm CPing a really nice lit fiction/magical realism manuscript right now, and my biggest observation (or at least most consistent) is that there always seems to be just one moment too much at the end of every chapter. She is doing exactly what you're asking about, and drastically reducing the power of the end of about 2/3 of her chapters by doing it.

Just looking at your examples, ending on "we need you to identify the body" or "I never want to see you again" has power. It's in that beautiful space between the end of a scene and a cliffhanger, where you just slug the reader in the gut and walk away. I'm willing to bet, if I were reading a MS with the reactions to those words as the ending, I'd flag both, encouraging you to end with the dialogue.

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Crono91
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Re: Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby Crono91 » Wed Jul 09, 2014 10:31 am

I think most cliffhangers don't show the reaction.

At the end of the first chapter in HUNGER GAMES, the last sentence tells the reader that the person picked is the main character's sister. Because of how the author set up the world in the first chapter, we could only imagine how Katniss felt, so we quickly turned to the next page to find out.
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James A. Ritchie
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Re: Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby James A. Ritchie » Wed Jul 09, 2014 11:22 am

That's actually a pretty common way of ending a scene. There's nothing wrong with showing the reaction, either, of course, especially if you can do it in one sentence. One very short sentence can be highly effective, but either way is fine.

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Re: Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby bjamison71 » Wed Jul 09, 2014 3:19 pm


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Crono91
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Re: Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby Crono91 » Wed Jul 09, 2014 3:33 pm

I will say, while it's common practice, I hate when a chapter ends in a cliffhanger, and then the next chapter begins with some needless exposition before returning back to where the cliffhanger ended! Drives me insane. I'll actually stop reading and go to bed when that happens, whereas if they just left off where the last chapter left, I'd want to read more!

Sigh.
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DrG2
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Re: Do you have to show the reaction?

Postby DrG2 » Wed Jul 09, 2014 8:14 pm

I guess one of my concerns is how do you show the devastated mom in a way that isn't stereotypical? I mean, you can, if she attacks the policeman or something, but if she acts "how the reader should expect her to act", what is gained by showing that? Is it stronger to let what happens next to be created by the reader's mind?

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