action, books, film, Gilmore Girls, movies, narration, television, The Booth at the End, writing
People tell writers to show rather than tell in scenes, but one of the fascinating things about the Gilmore Girls television series, is how well they pull off the exact opposite. Characters recap events not filmed during conversation. Either the scenes would have been too drawn out to film or too difficult. Here are some of my favorite examples:
A hungover Lorelei sits in the inn’s kitchen after Lane’s wedding the episode before. Her best friend Suki recaps some of the more interesting moments that would have been too drawn out to film. Suki tells Lorelei about using an old man’s cane for a limbo contest, awkward gyrating, posing, and strutting as Lorelei used the wedding photographer to film her audition for Top Model, and ends with the exuberant departing cheer Lorelei used the night before.
A bandaged Kirk runs into Lorelei in the market after becoming a first time cat owner. Throughout the episode, Kirk is bandaged up in more and more bandaids, each time relaying what the cat has done now. Cat Kirk needs Human Kirk to announce when he wants to enter from an adjacent room, does not like his bowl placed directly in front of him, and gains power from water, scratching Human Kirk over 60% of his body when Human Kirk tries to flee by stripping naked and hiding under water in the bathtub. All of this is relayed through dialogue rather than filmed.
Another show filmed entirely using dialogue to recap action is The Booth at the End, available on Hulu. A man, possibly the devil, sits in a cafe booth with a notebook. He listens to people. They come to him with a problem, he checks his book and tells them how to get what they want. He does not force them to do anything; it is entirely their choice. While he will not give them a new task for the same outcome, he does allow them to change what they want to gain our of the exchange and gives them a new task for the new return. He even admits that while the task he gives is a guaranteed way to get what they want, it is not the only way, but it is the only way he is giving.
The entire show is filmed in this manner. While the unnamed man with the notebook sits in the booth every scene, the people with the problems rotate out. They update him on their progress and he writes down the details in his notebook. Sometimes the stories overlap. A detective looking for his son is told he must help a dirty cop with a cover up while his son goes in wanting his father to leave him alone and gets his own task.
I don’t think it would work well in a novel, but I’m not sure. Has anyone seen this technique used in literature?
Yes, throughout Shakespeare and the ‘early modern’ period of English theatre.
Now that you mention it, I remember a death scene that happens off stage… but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing. Anything in more modern novels or is the practice reserved for the time constraints of theatrics? I wonder if that’s one reason it’s in plays and TV. Time constraint and the visual costuming constraints that do not apply to a novel.
I think any epistolary novel could be taken as an example of a character recounting action rather than ‘showing’. Also novels which rely on journal entries (Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Moonstone’, Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and H P Lovecraft’s ‘At The Mountains of Madness’ come to mind). Almost any courtroom drama, such as the whole canon of Erle Stanley Gardner’s ‘Perry Mason’ novels relies on spoken evidence of past events. I suppose the most famous of the latter genre has to be Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Arguably any fiction in the first person commits the whole story to ‘tell’ rather then ‘show’ but that’s a moot point.
You have a good point about the limitations of TV and drama. In Shakespeare’s day it was of course, impossible to stage a pitched battle on the stage of The Globe, so action switches to ‘another part of the field’ where two or three nobles discuss what is occurring before rushing off in response to some ‘alarums and excursions’. I think one of the most glaring instances of ‘action off’ is the destruction of the Turkish fleet in ‘Othello’. In modern times although technology has advanced to the extent that we can achieve anything by CGI there is the constraint of cost.
Reported action as an actual, deliberate dramatic device is a slightly different matter. I think it is central to a 20c play like Max Frisch’s ‘The Fire-Raisers’, where a respectable man gives leave to a couple of characters to store petrol and other incendiary items in his attic whilst denying, to others but principally to himself, that there is any connection between them and the reports of arson in the town.
I’m sure we could find more if we looked hard enough. 🙂
A further thought – this practice has been going on for a long time. In classical Greek drama deaths regularly take place offstage. ‘Antigone’ of Sophocles is an example. The deaths of the eponymous heroine and also of Haemon and Eurydice happen offstage and are reported by actors arriving on stage. This was nothing to do with technical constraints, but was probably more a cultural matter, an issue of ‘good taste’, or perhaps it was thought that a sensational death scene would detract from the moral message.
Oh Dracula is also another one. Though I have not finished it, the entire book is told through letters from the main character. I haven’t read many mystery/court scene novels, but now that you bring those up, you’re right. I tend to have a limited attention span for them so I prefer to 30 minute to hour long productions on TV than an entire novel. I have a Tom Clancy book in my TBR pile http://wp.me/p1HrCI-3K that might have a similar scene.
1001 Arabian Knights has an example too, not sure why I did not think of that one. The men sitting around in a circle recap to the idiot about to repeat their actions. No surprise, he ends up crying and bald just like the rest of them.
Don’t tell my middle school teacher, but I didn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird. I was much to into 1984 and Brave New World, our other assigned readings. Trying to remember if either of those had a narrative recap.