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View Full Version : Help needed with "show vs. tell" in a MG fantasy



Laura Lond
01-04-2010, 03:39 AM
Hello everyone,

I am looking for someone experienced with the "show vs. tell" - I have just heard back from an agent who wants more "showing" in my MG novel (humorous fantasy). The problem is, the novel is in the 1st person, so of course the main character is telling the story, with only some description of action, as he sees fit to mention. I am trying to find a way to fix that, but I need help!

PS. The novel is not large, only about 30,000 words.

CACTUSWENDY
01-04-2010, 04:07 AM
Question.

Is he the only person in your story? If not, then have your dialog speak some of the stuff. That is interaction. Also have your MC 'do' things, don't just say he does/did them. Show him doing it/them. That is action. Through your MC do you make his personality alive? The action/interaction should do that. It will bring 3-D to your story.

These are my thoughts that might help.

Laura Lond
01-04-2010, 04:51 AM
Thanks Wendy! Of course he is not the only person, he has a funny sidekick with whom there is quite a lot of dialogue. They have certain adventures, and he "does" many things, trying to accomplish an evasive goal. I thought there was enough of everything in the story - humor, action, description, plus interaction of MC with the audience (he likes to make comments as he shares what is happening). But the agent's opinion is different, so I need to work on the story...

PennStater
01-04-2010, 06:20 PM
I'm interested to take a look at the story. PM me :-)

Sheila Muirenn
01-11-2010, 08:10 AM
Simple really. There are two things he may mean. The first is active vs passive and the second deals with the use of different types of verbs.

Active:subject first; action second.

I circled the block three times.

Passive: (not usually desired) action or description first. Subject second.

For three times I circled the block.

Simply, this takes until the end of the sentence to get to the point, and this loses readers. Also, look at the order of sentences in the paragraph. The point comes first, explanation second. (Not always, of course).

Another way of putting this is to make sentences flow from the familiar to the unfamiliar, both within the sentence and from sentence to sentence. So make the reader understand right away.

Use of verbs, be verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and nouns to increase impact.

Telling: He was going. I was looking.

Showing: He went. I looked.

Generally, drop 'be' verbs (am is are was were, had been would be), drop ing, and change action to past tense. I went to the store is still first person. I go to the store is first person. I am going to the store talks 'about' it rather than 'shows' it.

Or, more often: drop 'be' verbs, drop ing, and add 'ed.' 'Rain splashed my eyes' is happening versus 'rain was dropping in my eyes' is talking about it.

Also, watch 'ly' endings, especially coupled with verbs, with 'be' verbs, 'ing', and 'ed.' After all, when a sentence is verb + be verb + adverb the words discuss too much and that is not showing.

An adverb, or word that ends in 'ly' is an adjective followed by 'ly.' So of course don't put 'ly' with an adjective either. In other words, repeated parts of speech lessen impact.

Do put adverbs with nouns. For example: The spider returned to its ghostly web. It and web are both nouns.

And try to end sentences with nouns for impact.

An example that lacks impact and talks about it: The issue mattered to the American public at large.

Try: The issue mattered to the American public. Public is a noun.

Extreme example of telling vs showing:
He was really getting started. (be verb + adverb + gerund ending in ing + past participle ending in ed).

Try:
He began.

Why is it important? These types of words are overused and obscure original thoughts, ideas, story, and style.

Okay, not a quick reply, but hopefully useful!
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Zellie
01-11-2010, 05:22 PM
Wow, Sheila...that's totally different from how I learned show/tell but that adds a whole new perspective on it for me.

The most common show/tell issue I've run into is something like "He was angry" -that tells. "He punched a hole in the wall' - that shows. We know he's angry from his action.

More tricky would be "He got in another fight and that made me upset." In a novel, you can't show everything or your novel would be a bazillion pages long. Things like travel can be condensed but turning points with conflict should be shown.

So for the example sentence, you might end up with a several paragraph or several page scene describing the fight and the MC's tears/screams at 'him' to stop/etc

I had one great beta reader from AW who told me I needed to show not tell a section about how the rain was pouring down like a blahblahmetaphor. I was like....um, it's rain, aren't I already showing it by describing it? She suggested showing it through the character's experience. Don't tell us it's raining, make us FEEL that it's raining. Let the rain plaster her hair to her forehead, let it feel slick, let it make splashing noises with each step, etc

We're taking submissions over at Chimera Critiques if you'd like some advice that more directly relates to the content of your book. We've got five staff members and the majority of us critique the submissions that we accept (we take two per month).

Sheila Muirenn
01-11-2010, 06:54 PM
Yes, good point. I get so caught in explaining that I forget to mention the obvious: the story dictates whether it is shown or told at a given moment.

But you can nearly always drop a be verb, drop ing, and add ed. Even when you are talking about it. In fact, it makes it shorter. Then you show even in descriptions. It's more about how it is presented than what is said.

The sentence you use talks about it. But when the concepts are a habitual part of writing, those kinds of sentences just donít happen.

Above anything else, 'ed' makes the action show.

Just don't put 'ed' with 'ly.'

eqb
01-11-2010, 09:20 PM
Simple really. There are two things he may mean. The first is active vs passive and the second deals with the use of different types of verbs.

Your suggestions are generally useful guidlines, but they aren't what most editors mean by show vs. tell.

Tell: He hated angry scenes like this.

'Hated' and 'angry' tell the reader what emotions are going on. One way to change that to show is by describing the emotions and/or showing the characters act that way.

Show: Listening to his sisters bickering, like hissing snakes, he felt his stomach clench, and he had to consciously uncurl his fists.

Overwritten, but you see what I mean. And yes, as you noted, sometimes telling is the right choice.

Oh, and just one quibble.


Active:subject first; action second.

I circled the block three times.

Passive: (not usually desired) action or description first. Subject second.

For three times I circled the block.



Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is acted upon. "The block was circled three times" is passive. Both your examples are active voice. (Though the second one is awkwardly worded, yes.)

Lady Ice
01-11-2010, 10:31 PM
Hello everyone,

I am looking for someone experienced with the "show vs. tell" - I have just heard back from an agent who wants more "showing" in my MG novel (humorous fantasy). The problem is, the novel is in the 1st person, so of course the main character is telling the story, with only some description of action, as he sees fit to mention. I am trying to find a way to fix that, but I need help!

PS. The novel is not large, only about 30,000 words.

Showing is just telling but in a more interesting way. Seeing as it's first-person, you have an opportunity for lots of showing. How does your character see things?

Telling: He was fat.
Showing: His bulging stomach pressed against the shirt he'd tucked into his trousers.

Sheila Muirenn
01-11-2010, 11:51 PM
Tell: He hated angry scenes like this.



Yes, that is telling. But the point is to replace a 'be' verb and 'ing' with ed. "Ed' by itself does not eliminate showing.

No problem with the passive voice example. That is a difficult way for me to write. So: what you said!


Show: Listening to his sisters bickering, like hissing snakes, he felt his stomach clench, and he had to consciously uncurl his fists..

Listening to his sisters bickering is telling. We are talking 'about' how he listened. It is not directly the character's action. That feels like the end of: He was listening to his sisters bickering. And that is telling.

Like hissing snakes is a comparison and definitely telling when used with the first part. Though it can be used to show if coupled with showing.


He felt his stomach clench, and he had to consciously uncurl his fists..

'He felt' is talking about it. 'He had to' is talking about it. You could substitute: My mom felt her stomach clench 10 years ago, so she had to go home. So: telling.

Show: He listened to his sisters bicker like hissing snakes. His stomach clenched; he uncurled his fists...Eliminates speculation about the action and simply shows action. Speculation is not direct action.

I've the feeling we could go on like this all day. But perhaps this is what is needed to answer the question.

Your turn.

Hope I did those quote marks right. I'm obviously not familiar with this forum.

eqb
01-12-2010, 12:06 AM
But the point is to replace a 'be' verb and 'ing' with ed.

Oh dear ghu. No. No, that's not the point at all. That way lies mechanical writing.

And sorry, I don't feel like debating. I'm simply giving my opinion based on my own experience and what I've heard from pro writers and editors.

Sheila Muirenn
01-12-2010, 12:22 AM
The sentence with the bickering is bugging me!

How about:

What was that? He strained. Hissing. He drew closer, the wooden steps hard beneath his feet. Hissing noises--like snakes? closer: and he distinguished voices. His stomach clenched; he unculed his fists.

"Don't tell me what...!"

He paused. His sisters. Bickering again.

From: His sisters. Bickering again...is telling. The rest is showing.

Sheila Muirenn
01-12-2010, 12:30 AM
No, I definitely don't do mechanical writing. I simply use mechanics to further my creativity.

Sheila Muirenn
01-12-2010, 12:41 AM
Oh dear ghu. No. No, that's not the point at all. That way lies mechanical writing.

And sorry, I don't feel like debating. I'm simply giving my opinion based on my own experience and what I've heard from pro writers and editors.

I believe the beta reader forum falls under Discussion on this board, new though I may be here, I am not a new writer.

Try this. Whoever is reading.

Open your manuscript. Click Edit, find, find all forms, and input the word be. Now highlight.

Do the same thing with ly. (No need for 'find all forms' here).

Do it with ing.

Now. Is every page filled with highlights? Okay. It will be for most people.

And that is the problem. These are typical patterns to most writing. It is not original, just a cultural tendancy we have. Get rid of it. Do it by learning mechanics and what comprises concise writing.

Now you can be original. And that, is what publishers want.

backslashbaby
01-12-2010, 01:11 AM
Sheila, check out the Basic Writing forum, or the Novels forum if you like discussions on this sort of thing. There is a lot of discussion on these topics.

Sheila Muirenn
01-12-2010, 01:57 AM
Okay Backslash, but I was trying to answer the original question.

Susan Lanigan
01-12-2010, 05:56 AM
I'm sorry Sheila, but you are not making sense here. Your answer is not germane to the question and there are details in it that are incorrect (such as your distinction of passive vs. active by simply moving an adverbial clause around - no, that's not the case. You are still employing active voice.)

EQB et al are correct here. I would add to what they have said - anything that is too overloaded with "He thought", "She remembered" or "he felt" is probably over-relying on telling vs showing. I went to a class one time where we were forced to describe a passage without ever indicating a narrator's thought. That would be a good exercise to get into the idea of telling vs showing.

eqb
01-12-2010, 06:02 AM
Try this. Whoever is reading.

I appreciate that you want to share your writing guidelines with those along the path. But...

None of your suggestions have anything to do with Show vs. Tell. Or passive voice. And, well, to be blunt, a couple of your suggestions are outright wrong. To you and other who are unclear on Show vs. Tell. Or what passive voice really is, check out the stickies here and in the various forums, or ask a mod where to find the relevant discussions.

However, as backslashbaby said, these topics are better discussed in Basic Writing or Novels or somewhere else besides here, where the OP has a specific question.

Sheila Muirenn
01-12-2010, 07:43 AM
Susan, if you look, you'll see I admitted to eqb I made a mistake with the passive example.

Eqb: For the rest. Sorry, but I'm right. There is not just one way to describe telling or showing.

Giving a sentence and saying 'this is showing and this is telling,' does not give any specifics on how transform a sentence from telling to showing. The things I mentioned do. I've used them myself, so did the people who taught me, and so have the ones I've worked with.

If you don't agree. There's no need to be rude.

padnar
01-17-2010, 06:01 PM
Show and not tell is very important for screenwriting .
sometimes it is very difficult to write certain scenes
like I am pained to hear it. I would like to know if there is any book which will help us in this aspect .Any suggestions pl write
padma

Matera the Mad
01-17-2010, 08:59 PM
Sheila, you and I will never exchange manuscripts for beta reading. I say this after reading other threads, your chimeracritiques.com bio, the sample critique PDF, and one online article.

HistorySleuth
01-30-2010, 11:39 AM
Sheila, check out the Basic Writing forum, or the Novels forum if you like discussions on this sort of thing. There is a lot of discussion on these topics.

I normally write non-fiction, so writing fiction is new to me (Its what I enjoy reading so I'm giving it a shot.) I though this thread was interesting and I do like the examples. I wish there was a sticky and all this show -vs- tell stuff was joined together because the more I read the more confused I get. :Shrug:

(This is one that came up in my search -- quietly leaving now:gone: to continue onto the other show vs tell hits.....)