1. Last1Left
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    Last1Left Active Member

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    How Practical is Show Not Tell?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Last1Left, Jul 21, 2008.

    Well, how practical is show not tell in a novel-length piece? Everybody and their dogs seem to throw that piece of advise at fledgling writers, but for longer works it doesn't seem practical to me. If you followed that advise, you'd have a piece of work larger than the Oxford English Dictionary. So when -- if ever -- do you guys tell instead of show, because I'm a little lost here?
     
  2. Scribe Rewan
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    Scribe Rewan Contributing Member

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    I think the term show not tell is open to interpritation. It obviously doesn't mean show everything and tell nothing, because of course, as your using words, you are effectively telling.

    For novel length peices, showing instead of telling means things like show what your character is like. Don't, for example, tell the audience 'Shes really arrogant,' try to show them through what that person does or says. Of course, mentioning her arrogance is also acceptable.

    I think if anything, show don't tell is actually more practical in a novel, because you've got more room as it were to do the showing. In short stories, sometimes you might have to compromise, if you have a very complex character with a lot of history that cant be revealed in the space of a few thousand words.

    It's hard to really tell you what to tell and what to show, because it depends so much on what your writing, in terms of audience, genre, themes and messages and such. The best thing to do would be to post an example of a peice of writing you've done where your not sure whether your telling too much rather than showing, and then we can read it and see. I think it's somethign you just naturally pick up as you write more and more. But we're all still guilty of it occasionally.

    If you want, PM me a sample and I'll have a look.
     
  3. Rumpole40k
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    Rumpole40k Banned

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    First and foremost no advice should be be taken to an extreme. For example show not tell taken to the extreme would result in a work that is nearly all dialogue. That being said, a piece in which everything is described and fed to the reader can be quite boring. Honestly, I think the whole concept is best applied in those instances where dialogue can be used to convey info in a more interesting way.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    ??? Dialogue is by no means the only way to show.

    Nor is it necessarily wordier:

    However, you don't need to show at every opportunity. It generally takes more planning and imagination, but a little does a lot to liven up the story. Therefore, you can put the effort into scenes that most benefit from it, such as emotionally charges scenes where you want to draw the reader in closest.

    Can it be overdone? Certainly. Variety and contrast are other writer's tools, and if you lead in to a passge heavy on showing with one which primarily tells, you MAY increase the impact of the showing.
     
  5. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Like most writing "rules," it's okay most of the time but there are certainly times when "Tell, don't show" should be used. For example, when you need to summarize something, like a past event or an ongoing/repetitive scene that needn't be described in all its detail; it would be impractical to show everything.

    I don't think it's necessarily a matter of long versus shorter works, however. I write long works and that's no excuse to try to keep them shorter by telling, not showing. It depends on the scene itself, not the length of the story. If you feel you need to keep a long work shorter by telling, not showing, then I think you need to work on how you "show" things rather than just resorting to "telling."
     

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