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Thread: Show, Don't Tell

  1. #1
    tfdswift
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    Show, Don't Tell

    I just recieved a "no" from a publisher and in her comments she said my manuscript had too much "tell" and not enough "show". I am not quite sure what she meant by this. I am not whining, I just want to improve my work so it can be published one day. g

    I wrote it for teens and had several teens read it before I submitted it anywhere and they all had glowing reports. I had a jr. high principal read it, and he said it was great and held his attention all the way through. I just need to know how to understand what the publisher said so I can fix my work. I know the plot is good and the whole idea behind the book is good. Now I just need to make it acceptable for the publishing world, I guess.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!!:hail

    Still Learning ~~ Tammy

  2. #2
    HapiSofi
    Guest

    Re: I need a translator!!

    She means you explained too much. That's a typical novice-author mistake. I suggest you go through, cut out every explanation, give what's left to a fresh reader, and see how much they can tell about what's going on. I promise you, it'll be more than you imagine.

    The Page 117 Game is an instructive exercise that's sometimes done as a program item at SF conventions. The leader has a stash of diverse novels, and has doctored them so that only the text of page 117 is visible. The easiest way to do this is to xerox that page, cut off any identifying marks, and re-xerox it. Bring the books along anyway. They'll be needed.

    To play, hand the text of one of these pages to one of the panelists. Have them read it aloud, then talk about how much they can guess from just that page. When they're done, bring out the book and check how accurately they guessed. The usual result is: very accurately.

    What this teaches us is that the reader can pick up a huge amount of information from context and style. What the reader can infer, we don't have to explain.

  3. #3
    Gala
    Guest

    Show and tell

    Tell:
    Bambi was so angry at Bob for the way he talked to her.
    Show:
    Bambi slapped Bob's face.

    Tell:
    Bertha felt like throwing a tantrum.
    Show:
    Bertha stomped her feet, and threw the empty glass at the fireplace.

    Tell:
    She thought it was about time he showed up.
    Show:
    She opened the door, and said, "It's about time you showed up."

    Clues you are "telling" are words like feel, seem, thought, wondered. When you are showing, the characters (which can be people, weather, props) are speaking and/or acting.

  4. #4
    tfdswift
    Guest

    Re: I need a translator!!

    Maybe it is me and I am just stupid, but I just don't see where I put in alot of "explanations"... I really want to fix the problem but I don't see what I could possibly leave out and the book still make sense.:head

    Is there any group or groups out there that would read my manuscript and offer specific solutions and/or suggestions without sending it to an editor, or costing me an arm and a leg?:shrug

    I want to learn and I am willing to learn, I guess I just need a more specific kind of help. I promise I am not a stupid person. I guess I am just one of those people who learns by being shown rather than by reading instructions or by being told.

    ~~ Tammy

  5. #5
    Stephenie Hovland
    Guest

    Re: I need a translator!!

    Have you read through the thread from Uncle Jim, in the Novels section up above? I think you'd find a lot of helpful advice there.

  6. #6
    tfdswift
    Guest

    Re: I need a translator!!

    Thanks!! I think I have got it!! Finally... (At least about the Show and Tell thing.) Thanks again everybody!!:hug

    I'd still like to know about finding a group to read my manuscript and make some helpful suggestions and/or some kind criticism...

  7. #7
    HapiSofi
    Guest

    Re: Show, tell, move on from

    Gala contributed:
    Tell: Bambi was so angry at Bob for the way he talked to her.
    Show: Bambi slapped Bob's face.
    "Honey, sweetie," I said, "you know I wouldn't lie to you."
    "The hell you say," I heard her mutter, just before her baseball bat connected with my head.
    Tell: Bertha felt like throwing a tantrum.
    Show: Bertha stomped her feet, and threw the empty glass at the fireplace.
    "What kind of idiot do you take me for?" screeched Bertha, throwing her empty glass at the fireplace and reaching for another.
    Tell: She thought it was about time he showed up.
    Show: She opened the door, and said, "It's about time you showed up."
    By the time the cab pulled up in front of her house, she had already thrown all my clothes out onto the lawn, followed by my golf clubs. Then she kicked open the front door, and I saw what she had in her hands.

    "Stella, please," I said. "Not the computer."

  8. #8
    tfdswift
    Guest

    Re: Show, tell, move on from

    :rofl Got it!!

  9. #9
    SRHowen
    Guest

    groups

    If you want people to read your novel, and don't want to pay for it--then you most likely should join a critique group. You will be expected to crit other people's work in return.

    Shawn

  10. #10
    Gala
    Guest

    mammamaia

    mammamia'll look at it for free. Find her in the Mentor's forum.

    You could also come right out and ask people on Absolute if they'll volunteer to take a look-see via e-mail. I am game (and experienced at giving useful and non-judgmental feedback.)

    Also ask around where you live. Often writers and others in the biz will donate their time to offer feedback. I do this occasionally, and don't expect anything in return except that they buy my coffee when we meet to go over my ideas.

    You do seem pretty sharp, and I sense your story is pretty good too. Remember, what the publisher said is that one person's opinion.

    Cheers.

  11. #11
    mammamaia
    Guest

    here i am!

    i'll be glad to take a look... remember that those comments were only from one reader at one publishing house... and that one reader's opinion might not be in synch with any of 9 other readers'...

    send me your synopsis, chapter outline [if it's a full-fledged novel] and the first chapter for starters, and i'll give you at least a 'second' opinion, if not a more accurate one...

    love and hugs, maia
    maia3maia@hotmail.com

  12. #12
    Yeshanu
    Guest

    Re: here i am!

    remember that those comments were only from one reader at one publishing house... and that one reader's opinion might not be in synch with any of 9 other readers'...
    Right on!

    If you want me to take a look as well, email me at ruthcooke@hotmail.com. Don't send your ms to that address -- I'll give you another that I use just for writing.

    Ruth

  13. #13
    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Show, Don't Tell

    I think this discussion (with examples) of showing rather than telling in fiction belongs up in Novels rather than in Bewares.

    To show you what I mean, I'm moving it....

  14. #14
    Bibliophile rowriter's Avatar
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    link

    Here is a helpful link I found on the subject, with some really good examples:

    http://www.sfwriter.com/ow04.htm

    One really good note in this article: sometimes you'd rather tell - if you 'showed' through the whole story, readers would get bored. You just have to learn when to show and when to tell.
    "Careful, words! We're surrounded by quotes!"



  15. #15
    I really do look like this. azbikergirl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rowriter
    You just have to learn when to show and when to tell.
    Ah yes. When it's better to Tell than to Show is rarely (if ever) addressed in How To books. In fact, one of my favorite writing books, Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver, urges writers to make all of your story worthy of Showing.
    Karen
    writing as KC May


  16. #16
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    That's where "art" comes in... writing is not a science; it's not something like "if you follow a manual, step by step, you will achieve success."


    "Show vs. tell" is a tool, a technique. How you're going to use it -- and how much, when, etc. -- becomes craft, or even art. Truly gifted writers know exactly what to do. When you ask them, "How?" They probably won't be able to tell you...

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
    -- Agatha Christie





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  17. #17
    Dorothy A. Winsor dawinsor's Avatar
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    tfdswift--Here are two things to look for to find those "tell" moments, which aren't always easy for the writer to identify at first:

    1. Places where you name emotions, eg "She was relieved" or "He was irritated." At that moment, you're summarizing a whole lot of body reaction by means of a name. Instead, show us what leads to that conclusion.

    2. Places where you don't stay in the moment, eg "Someone grabbed me, dragged me off the chair, and flung me into the wall." Again, see how much that summarizes? We don't know what this experience was like for the character. What did it feel like to be that person at that moment? Did his heart pound? Did his head slam into that wall?

    Showing vs telling took me an unbelievably long time to learn, and I'm still learning it all the time. Maybe that's because I'm impatient, or maybe I'm just slow. But it wasn't easy.

    Hope this helps.
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  18. #18
    Esteemed thinker Calliopenjo's Avatar
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    Smile

    Hi there,

    Here are some links that might help with Show Don't Tell issue.

    http://www.coloradospringsfictionwri...ersus_tell.pdf
    http://www.writing.com/main/view_ite...3-Show-Vs-Tell
    http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/creative/showing.htm
    http://foremostpress.com/authors/art..._not_tell.html
    http://waltzwithwords.blogspot.com/2...w-vs-tell.html



    As for writing groups, Google writing groups and several should show up. Online groups are good if you're home bound. Just remember that there's a plethora out there and every one of them has their own way doing things. Yahoo has several writing groups as well.


    If you're not home bound, try the local library or bookstore and see if they have something. If you're lucky enough to live by a university, the English department might be able to steer you in the direction of a writing group.


    I hope this helps.

    Wounded I sing, tormented I indite. — Victor Herbert (1859-1924)

  19. #19
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    This is a 5-year-old thread, folks.

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
    -- Agatha Christie





    The Pacific Between • A Bunch of Stories
    (2006 IPPY Award)

    WIP: Beyond the Banyan Tree - draft 9, 125,000 words

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  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by HapiSofi View Post
    She means you explained too much. That's a typical novice-author mistake. I suggest you go through, cut out every explanation, give what's left to a fresh reader, and see how much they can tell about what's going on. I promise you, it'll be more than you imagine.
    This.

    In addition to the "show vs. tell" aspect, another common manuscript error is simply to "show" too much. You don't need to relate every little action that takes place. If you want to say that a character brushes her teeth, you don't need to relate that she takes the toothbrush out of its holder and squeezes toothpaste onto it from the tube. Most readers can figure out that without being told. Relate actions that are important for understanding the story. Leave the unimportant ones out.

  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by maestrowork View Post
    This is a 5-year-old thread, folks.
    Yeah, but the question seems immortal here.

  22. #22
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    If we put all the threads and posts together and make a movie... it would be like Groundhog Day.

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
    -- Agatha Christie





    The Pacific Between • A Bunch of Stories
    (2006 IPPY Award)

    WIP: Beyond the Banyan Tree - draft 9, 125,000 words

    Home Page | Blog | Reviews

  23. #23
    Writer is as Writer does Terie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by maestrowork View Post
    If we put all the threads and posts together and make a movie... it would be like Groundhog Day.
    If we put all the threads and posts together and make a movie... it would be like Groundhog Day.

    (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
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  24. #24
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Quote Originally Posted by dawinsor View Post
    2. Places where you don't stay in the moment, eg "Someone grabbed me, dragged me off the chair, and flung me into the wall." Again, see how much that summarizes? We don't know what this experience was like for the character. What did it feel like to be that person at that moment? Did his heart pound? Did his head slam into that wall?
    I agree with your first example but not with this one.

    For me, a way to tell if something shows or tells is to mentally see if I can change it into a movie scene without add anything. If I have to add something, then it tells.

  25. #25
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
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    I agree with Critical. Besides, you can imagine how being grabbed, dragged, and thrown against a wall feels like.
    "We work in the dark--we do what we can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." (Henry James)

    "Either you think--or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you." (Tender is The Night)

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