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View Full Version : Show, Don't Tell...Show, Don't Tell...Show, Don't Tell...



Christyp
10-12-2011, 10:41 PM
AUGH! How many times have I heard that? I totally know what it means, and know it when I see it. So, why the hell is it everytime I sit down to write I have to rewrite something fifteen times to get it to actually "show". Please tell me (or show it if you really feel the need) I'm not the only one who has issues with this....

Chris P
10-12-2011, 10:47 PM
"Drat drat DRAT!" Chris balled his fists and pounded his legs.

"What's wrong, Writer of Immense and As-yet Unrecognized Talent?" The spandex-clad supermodel paused in her floor stretches and brushed the long, luscious wavy raven-black hair from her face.

"Just when I think this is perfect I give it another read it's full of stuff I'm not supposed to do." Chris downed the last of his coffee and thunked the mug on the desk. "Boy, that AW will sure mess up your writing."

Christyp
10-12-2011, 10:51 PM
"Drat drat DRAT!" Chris balled his fists and pounded his legs.

"What's wrong, Writer of Immense and As-yet Unrecognized Talent?" The spandex-clad supermodel paused in her floor stretches and brushed the long, luscious wavy raven-black hair from her face.

"Just when I think this is perfect I give it another read it's full of stuff I'm not supposed to do." Chris downed the last of his coffee and thunked the mug back down on the desk. "Boy, that AW will sure mess up your writing."

Show off! LOL

Maryn
10-12-2011, 11:23 PM
If it weren't for avatars, I'd swear someone was talking to themselves here. I mostly just glance at user names and when I clicked on this, I truly thought it was a post from Chris P. And then Chris P answers, and I'm all, "Wha'?"

Maryn, shrugging (<--showing!)

kaitie
10-12-2011, 11:24 PM
I think it gets easier the more you do it. It'll come more naturally as you improve. I've still cross things out when I'm editing because I tend to throw in random telling sentences that are completely unnecessary. Just like anything else, though, the more you practice the easier it will come.

Christyp
10-12-2011, 11:25 PM
If it weren't for avatars, I'd swear someone was talking to themselves here. I mostly just glance at user names and when I clicked on this, I truly thought it was a post from Chris P. And then Chris P answers, and I'm all, "Wha'?"

Maryn, shrugging (<--showing!)

This is one of those situations where I wish there was a "like" button. I seriously choked on my soda when I read this. I can see where you'd be confused...then again, I'm always confused!

Chris P
10-12-2011, 11:26 PM
If it weren't for avatars, I'd swear someone was talking to themselves here. I mostly just glance at user names and when I clicked on this, I truly thought it was a post from Chris P. And then Chris P answers, and I'm all, "Wha'?"

Maryn, shrugging (<--showing!)

Oh, don't think I haven't been tempted to carry on discussions on my own when I post a dud of a thread.

Christyp: The "like" button is the little scale between the green "online" and the red triangle "report post" button. These are rep points and you can even add a little message saying why you liked the post. Check your UserCP to see how many you have and to read the comments.

Christyp
10-12-2011, 11:30 PM
Oh, don't think I haven't been tempted to carry on discussions on my own when I post a dud of a thread.

Christyp: The "like" button is the little scale between the green "online" and the red triangle "report post" button. These are rep points and you can even add a little message saying why you liked the post. Check your UserCP to see how many you have and to read the comments.

Don't laugh, but I didn't realize the green dot meant I was online...lol'

Chris P
10-12-2011, 11:39 PM
It took me a while to find all the features of AW. I still don't know if I've found them all.

Maryn
10-12-2011, 11:47 PM
I know I haven't found them all. I'm not very good with tech matters, but my heart is pure.

Sort of.

Maryn, delusional

Pebbles
10-12-2011, 11:49 PM
Because a lot of authors do show.I think our subconcious picks it up and then we start writing that way.

The more I try not to tell, the simpler my writing becomes. When I try to fix that, it turns showy. So frustrating!!

juniper
10-13-2011, 07:13 AM
Oh look, here are other AW threads with people discussing this:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=227029

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=226907

Terie
10-13-2011, 11:00 AM
'Show, don't tell' is a guideline. It absolutely DOES NOT mean that every single thing must be shown not told. That would be dreadfully wearying for the reader.

For example, let's look at someone starting to cry. Let's say this occurs in a courtroom drama, where the character on the witness stand on trial for murder unexpectedly breaks down and confesses. The 'starting to cry' part of that incident might be the first sign of what's coming, and should be shown, not told. 'Jenny stopped speaking mid-sentence and stared at the back wall of the courtroom. You could've heard a pin drop. She swallowed, and tears welled in her eyes. As they started to spill down her cheeks, she whispered, "I did it."'

On the other hand, let's say that it occurs in an argument between a 13-year-old girl and her mom over a boy the girl wants to date. Every single reader knows that the girl is going to break out in tears any moment now, and when it happens between two lines of dialogue, it can just be 'Jenny started to cry,' and you carry on. Showing it (as in the example above) would slow down the dialogue and interfere with the pace of the argument.

In addition, the complementary guideline that goes alongside 'show, don't tell' is 'scene and summary'. Most work alternates between scene (show) and summary (tell). If you analyse published works, you'll see this over and over. The 'summary' bits give the reader a bit of a mental break before moving into the next 'scene' bit.

One example of using summary effectively is in a series, where certain key events from previous books need to be quickly summarised so that readers who didn't read them understand what happened. You don't 'show' the event because you already did in an earlier book, you simply summarise it. Read a Harry Potter book that's not the first one, and you'll see that JKR is a master of this technique.

The trick to effective writing is to understand all the tools at your disposal and know which one to employ at any given time. That, of course, is much easier said than done. :)

Filigree
10-13-2011, 08:17 PM
Some of my frustration stems from adhering to 'show, don't tell', and then running into readers who cannot seem to process context. They want to be 'told', apparently, or they can't grasp the story. It's a fine line. Usually, I back off from that critique group for a while and go read something gorgeously obtuse and successful.

Christyp
10-13-2011, 08:18 PM
'Show, don't tell' is a guideline. It absolutely DOES NOT mean that every single thing must be shown not told. That would be dreadfully wearying for the reader.

For example, let's look at someone starting to cry. Let's say this occurs in a courtroom drama, where the character on the witness stand on trial for murder unexpectedly breaks down and confesses. The 'starting to cry' part of that incident might be the first sign of what's coming, and should be shown, not told. 'Jenny stopped speaking mid-sentence and stared at the back wall of the courtroom. You could've heard a pin drop. She swallowed, and tears welled in her eyes. As they started to spill down her cheeks, she whispered, "I did it."'

On the other hand, let's say that it occurs in an argument between a 13-year-old girl and her mom over a boy the girl wants to date. Every single reader knows that the girl is going to break out in tears any moment now, and when it happens between two lines of dialogue, it can just be 'Jenny started to cry,' and you carry on. Showing it (as in the example above) would slow down the dialogue and interfere with the pace of the argument.

In addition, the complementary guideline that goes alongside 'show, don't tell' is 'scene and summary'. Most work alternates between scene (show) and summary (tell). If you analyse published works, you'll see this over and over. The 'summary' bits give the reader a bit of a mental break before moving into the next 'scene' bit.

One example of using summary effectively is in a series, where certain key events from previous books need to be quickly summarised so that readers who didn't read them understand what happened. You don't 'show' the event because you already did in an earlier book, you simply summarise it. Read a Harry Potter book that's not the first one, and you'll see that JKR is a master of this technique.

The trick to effective writing is to understand all the tools at your disposal and know which one to employ at any given time. That, of course, is much easier said than done. :)

And this is the best piece of writing "advice" I've read in a long time. Makes us newbies feel a little more comfortable about the whole show, don't tell "rule". Thank you so much!!!

backslashbaby
10-14-2011, 02:57 AM
^^^ That is a great post!



Some of my frustration stems from adhering to 'show, don't tell', and then running into readers who cannot seem to process context. They want to be 'told', apparently, or they can't grasp the story. It's a fine line. Usually, I back off from that critique group for a while and go read something gorgeously obtuse and successful.

Gorgeously obtuse. I can't tell you how much I love that :) I don't want everything completely spelled out in my fiction, either. There are different types of readers on that score, and that's cool for authors, unless you get in the wrong crit group :D

Norman D Gutter
10-14-2011, 05:00 PM
I believe the show vs. tell advice is over-stated. Some things are better shown, some things are better told. In my engineering work, the technical reports I write had better be tell. None of my clients want to be shown my findings and recommendations. They just want to be told what they are.

Showing generally takes more words than telling. If all we did was show, our novels and non-fiction would be much longer than they are, too long to sell. It takes a nice mixture of showing and telling, IMHO, to make a book great.

NDG

feather
10-14-2011, 09:54 PM
I know for a fact that I'm telling too much and not showing nearly enough. My weakest points at the moment are lack of showing and lack of descriptions, which probably makes it stand out even more. If I know my own progress "method" I'm probably going to over-focus on showing, show too much, notice and pull back until I find a balance that suits me. But right now I actually use "show, don't tell" as a mantra. Doesn't mean I need flowery descriptions of every step my characters make, but I do need more than "He got angry when he heard that."

Christyp
10-14-2011, 10:16 PM
I know for a fact that I'm telling too much and not showing nearly enough. My weakest points at the moment are lack of showing and lack of descriptions, which probably makes it stand out even more. If I know my own progress "method" I'm probably going to over-focus on showing, show too much, notice and pull back until I find a balance that suits me. But right now I actually use "show, don't tell" as a mantra. Doesn't mean I need flowery descriptions of every step my characters make, but I do need more than "He got angry when he heard that."

Yeah, I tend to go overboard one way or the other!

Alexandra Little
10-14-2011, 11:39 PM
Timewaster explained to me that the rule should be "describe, don't summarize." You can tell, as long as it's descriptive.

ios
10-14-2011, 11:40 PM
AUGH! How many times have I heard that? I totally know what it means, and know it when I see it. So, why the hell is it everytime I sit down to write I have to rewrite something fifteen times to get it to actually "show". Please tell me (or show it if you really feel the need) I'm not the only one who has issues with this....

What makes it worse is that while showing is important, so is telling in some cases ;-)

Jodi

juniper
10-14-2011, 11:47 PM
Timewaster explained to me that the rule should be "describe, don't summarize." You can tell, as long as it's descriptive.

This makes sense to me. You can describe quickly or in depth, depending on the need at that point, but use the senses or action.

Someone cries, shouts, wails, laughs, dances wildly etc. instead of someone is sad, is angry, is in despair, is happy, is manic.

Behavior - actions - reveal a lot.

Alexandra Little
10-15-2011, 12:30 AM
I found her particular example from another thread:


Frankly sometimes it is more effective to tell and sometimes you want to tell to prioduce some particular effect:
'He was drunk. No. More than that he was shitfaced, bladdered, 'as a newt' and it was fucking fantastic.''