Author Topic: Show vs. tell  (Read 23553 times)

Offline JeanneT

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #30 on: April 01, 2008, 11:09:09 PM »
Thanks, Marva. I cheated and told that he returned for the funeral although I tried to slip it in in an interesting way. I guess I could have had a bill for the funeral or something, but that just didn't seem quite right.
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Offline yoshi97

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #31 on: April 03, 2008, 09:31:41 PM »
There will always be some things you must tell, as there is no other way to convey the information. The trick is to work out as much of the tell as you can, allowing show to be the dominant force in your work.

As an example, if Mark were a year younger than Brian, could you show that in your writing? Perhaps, but it would be tough. My first thought went to saying Brian was in the high school, whereas Mark is still in middle school. It could work, but it isn't exact enough. Mentioning their ages resorts to a tell, so that's no good either. This is one of those pieces of info that isn't easily conveyed any other way, and as it's information, you give it short mention and move onto the good stuff.

Mark, always a year behind Brian, was given to chaos. From the toys that cluttered his floors, to the posters hung randomly by tape and gum, his room shouted out the innocense of an eight year old. However, he was twenty years removed from that small boy, living life as if the sands of time had run out, endlessly stuck in a loop that would never end.
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Offline wordsmith

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #32 on: March 24, 2010, 03:12:39 PM »
This is also one of my favorite games, but for a different reason.

I HATE the idea that telling is wrong and showing is how to write! There is a place in this world for bananas as well as strawberries and there is a place in this world for telling as well as showing.

The trick is to balance each one and find the distinctive and correct use for each. For the most part, you do not want to be top heavy with telling as opposed to showing but, even in that, there are certain circumstances, and with an exceptional writer, where that can work too. Generally speaking, however, especially in fiction, you want to do more showing than telling and make sure your telling is warranted and well-done.

We can blame Charles Dickens for popularizing that idea that one should never tell a scene. But he was living in an age where there were too many people trying to tell a story without providing 'pictures' for the reader. They were, in essence, boring! So, in that case, he was trying to discourage the dull practice of telling vs showing. (But, if you read a little Dickens with a critical eye, you will notice he has his share of telling, too!)

Offline ajcastle

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #33 on: March 25, 2010, 10:38:44 AM »
This is also one of my favorite games, but for a different reason.

I HATE the idea that telling is wrong and showing is how to write! There is a place in this world for bananas as well as strawberries and there is a place in this world for telling as well as showing.

The trick is to balance each one and find the distinctive and correct use for each. For the most part, you do not want to be top heavy with telling as opposed to showing but, even in that, there are certain circumstances, and with an exceptional writer, where that can work too. Generally speaking, however, especially in fiction, you want to do more showing than telling and make sure your telling is warranted and well-done.

We can blame Charles Dickens for popularizing that idea that one should never tell a scene. But he was living in an age where there were too many people trying to tell a story without providing 'pictures' for the reader. They were, in essence, boring! So, in that case, he was trying to discourage the dull practice of telling vs showing. (But, if you read a little Dickens with a critical eye, you will notice he has his share of telling, too!)

I agree!!

I've read stories with a bunch of tell and found myself wanting to scream in frustration. However I've read some that are just too heavy on the 'showing' as well. I also think it's about balance. Too much of any one thing can get tedious. While I think that a majority of showing makes for a much better/interesting/gripping story, a little tell is okay in some circumstances. Although I don't like blunt telling such as 'she was eight." You can tell us she was eight in a slightly more interesting but telling way. Something like age (as stated above) is really hard to show if you're trying to be specific.

Offline JeanneT

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #34 on: March 31, 2010, 11:39:58 AM »
The advice is wrong-headed in many ways. Reading or listening to OS Card on the subject is educational. He loathes and rants against people who give the advice -- which I do myself on occasion.

His point is that most of a story is always TOLD. But he points out that most of the WORDS of a novel are taken up by showing because showing takes a lot of space. Telling doesn't.

Incidentally you can not tell a scene. A scene by definition is in time and must be shown. But there is no reason to show that someone puts down their knife, wipes their hands on a towel, walks through the hall, opens the door (are your eyes crossed with boredom yet) and goes into the living room to answer the door bell -- unless they're going to meet a serial killer on the way.

Telling "she answered the door" works just fine. SHOWING the conversation that ensues will take more words and more space although in time it might actually be shorter. By the way, I disagree about just saying she's eight. That can be fine as long as it isn't a break in PoV and an authorial intrusion. That is more likely to be a problem in being a small authorial intrusion and info-dump than telling. If the PoV character would think that about her being eight then it's no problem for me.

Part of what we do have to watch is that telling doesn't turn into authorial intrusion and info-dumping. But our readers will have nodded off long before we're through if we don't TELL a large part of the story in most cases. My own Kingdom's Cost covers two years. Think about how long it would be if I showed the whole thing.  :eek:

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Offline lovinlife83

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #35 on: March 31, 2010, 11:56:29 AM »
How wonderful this conversation has picked up again! I am needing advice with telling vs. showing. I am comforted that some has to be tell. I find myself looking at spots in my story and thinking that definitely is telling and needs to be worked on. Then there are parts that I'm like this all seems like telling, but should I really draw this all out and show it to the reader? Seems silly sometimes, I guess. Kind of a scary, but fun process.  :)

Offline ajcastle

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #36 on: March 31, 2010, 12:32:19 PM »
By the way, I disagree about just saying she's eight. That can be fine as long as it isn't a break in PoV and an authorial intrusion. That is more likely to be a problem in being a small authorial intrusion and info-dump than telling. If the PoV character would think that about her being eight then it's no problem for me.


The 'she was eight' was just an example, and possibly a poor one. But what I meant moreso was just saying (verbatim) 'she was eight'. I think you can definitely tell something like that, but possibly using a different tactic. Sometimes bluntly saying things works best, but I guess I feel that sprinkling telling things throughout keeps the momentum going and keeps things interesting. Example: "Being the only eight-year-old..." works better and sounds more appealing than just saying '"she was eight." My opinion. But I also agree...a conundrum, I know. ;)

Offline bodwen

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #37 on: March 31, 2010, 01:16:23 PM »
I agree with Jeanne that telling gets a bad rap.  If something is not vitally important it can be told.  And if the voice is good, telling can be just as entertaining as showing.  There are only two forms of telling that I really don't like:

Using author intrusion to describe the personalities of your characters - I really don't like it when writers use adjectives tell their readers how they are supposed to feel about the characters.  It's a lot better to present their habits and behaviors to let the reader draw their own conclusions.  Plus its easy to turn telling into showing by conveying this in the POV.  ("John was cheap " vs. "Mary didn't like John because she thought John was cheap" vs. "Mary avoided John because the one time he took her to dinner, he conveniently left his wallet at home and then wouldn't return her calls for a week.")

When it robs the reader of an emotional or important moment in the manuscript - "Mary saw that John had survived the fire and she was overcome with relief." vs. Just about anything else!)
« Last Edit: March 31, 2010, 01:32:20 PM by bodwen »

Offline JeanneT

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #38 on: April 01, 2010, 05:42:09 PM »
I agree with Jeanne that telling gets a bad rap.  If something is not vitally important it can be told.  And if the voice is good, telling can be just as entertaining as showing.  There are only two forms of telling that I really don't like:

Using author intrusion to describe the personalities of your characters - I really don't like it when writers use adjectives tell their readers how they are supposed to feel about the characters.  It's a lot better to present their habits and behaviors to let the reader draw their own conclusions.  Plus its easy to turn telling into showing by conveying this in the POV.  ("John was cheap " vs. "Mary didn't like John because she thought John was cheap" vs. "Mary avoided John because the one time he took her to dinner, he conveniently left his wallet at home and then wouldn't return her calls for a week.")

When it robs the reader of an emotional or important moment in the manuscript - "Mary saw that John had survived the fire and she was overcome with relief." vs. Just about anything else!)

Part of it is using your judgment (and I don't mean that is easy) about which parts are important and which aren't. You certainly don't want to tell parts that need emotional impact because you won't get it. And I hate the parts where a writer tells the reader how to feel about a character--although it may be important to tell the reader how the POV CHARACTER feels about another character and sometimes telling that does work, just depending on how you do it.

I have the first line of a chapter (which may or may not survive edit but so far it's gotten good remarks from some betas) that is: "The night was as dark as the heart of the English king."

Now that isn't me telling the reader that the king is a meanie or that the night is dark (which god knows he is and it is) because I've already shown it. But it IS what the POV character is thinking. He is experiencing rather a dark night of the soul after a horrendous encounter with that same English king.

I don't know. Does any of that make sense? Is it showing? telling? a bit of both? sometimes being a writer is VERY confusing. I'm not sure I didn't totally wander off the subject.  :emb:

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Offline JeanneT

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Re: Show vs. tell
« Reply #39 on: April 01, 2010, 05:47:55 PM »
By the way, I disagree about just saying she's eight. That can be fine as long as it isn't a break in PoV and an authorial intrusion. That is more likely to be a problem in being a small authorial intrusion and info-dump than telling. If the PoV character would think that about her being eight then it's no problem for me.


The 'she was eight' was just an example, and possibly a poor one. But what I meant moreso was just saying (verbatim) 'she was eight'. I think you can definitely tell something like that, but possibly using a different tactic. Sometimes bluntly saying things works best, but I guess I feel that sprinkling telling things throughout keeps the momentum going and keeps things interesting. Example: "Being the only eight-year-old..." works better and sounds more appealing than just saying '"she was eight." My opinion. But I also agree...a conundrum, I know. ;)

Of course you want to sprinkle it. I wasn't saying otherwise but I think 4 words, as that was would probably be sprinkling too. :)

There are no doubt more elegant ways of expressing but it was the idea you'd express. After all, when you get right down to it isn't much narrative and description telling in one form or another?

Edit: Bowden, I think which of your description's of Mary's feelings about John I would choose would depend on how important her feelings about him were. It might not be important enough to justify that much of an investment.  Or it might be.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2010, 05:50:41 PM by JeanneT »
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