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  1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Is telling really so bad?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by marcusl, Sep 24, 2009.

    All writers know about the show don't tell rule. Some writers advise us to never tell. However, when you're exploring the protagonist's thoughts, isn't that telling? Sure, you could show it via his/her actions, but then the story turns into a chain of this happened, then that happened, etc.

    Any advice would be appreciated. Many thanks.
     
  2. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    I think that "showing" allows the reader to "fill in the blanks" with their own creativity.
     
  3. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    Its all about striking the right combination of show and tell. Each writing style is different so the balance is different for every writer.

    So, is it bad? Only if your balance is off.
     
  4. Robert
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    Robert Banned

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    It's not really a rule, it's more of a guideline, only they squashed the guideline down to the size of a soundbite and dumbed it down, and in doing so made it technically incorrect, because of course you can use tell. It's just easier to say "Show, don't tell" than it is to explain when and how tell can be used effectively. One of the saddest things about writing is that new writers think "show, don't tell" should be taken literally, meaning never use tell ever, for anything, and they tie themselves in knots in the dark trying to eradicate every possible statement that might be considered tell.

    The simplest advice, which will serve you as an answer to this and many similar questions, is to pick up some of the books you've read and see how the author handled it. How were thoughts handled? Where and when do you see 'tell' being used? How does it compare between books, between authors, and so on? Reading is part of learning to write, and there is so much writing out there to help us.

    Cheers,
    Bob
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    ^ What he said :D
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you should always beware of folks who say 'never' in giving advice... and never take seriously those who say 'always,' either!

    that said, robert's advice about checking existing novels is sound... but just make sure they're by good writers!
     
  7. Sophronia
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    Sophronia Member

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    I agree. As well, in some instances it can be impossible to show something. For example, I have some non-human characters in some of my stories, and it can be hard to 'show' how they're feeling because they do not have the same expressions we humans do. Sometimes it has to be told with words, and it's up to the reader to imagine how the character looks and acts because of that feeling, what's happening, etc.

    When you're exploring their thoughts, I'm not exactly sure how you would show that save for description of memories and such, since I'm assuming the protagonist isn't doing much action while you're describing their thoughts. There's nothing wrong with telling something if you're unable to show it :)
     
  8. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I like knowing the thoughts of characters, so I think it's a good thing.
     
  9. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want to tell what the character is thinking and feeling, you can always mix it up with showing in the real world meanwhile. For example, when the character thinks of someone they really dislike, they might find themselves about to break something they're holding in their hand, from the stress they're feeling...just a poor example.
     
  10. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    To be honest, regardless of how much this 'show, don't tell' rule is touted on internet message boards, the fact is that most authors TELL in their books.
    If there was more showing, then I would certainly be interested in more books.
     
  11. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    How does the writer know if his or her balance is off, if it's their writing style? Is it really possible that a person's style is flawed?

    Sheesh, I have so much trouble with this.
     
  12. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I say that you should not worry about it.

    If you write a piece and it sounds off, submit it to the review forum and people will DEFINITELY tell you what the problem is, hopefully in a fashion that enlightens you.
     
  13. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    Whan I say balance, I mean the ratio of showing to telling. For example, if a writer has strong literary abilities and their telling is rich and interesting, then the ratio (blanance) will be different then a writer who has a different set of skills.

    So, how does a writer know? Your readers will tell you.
     
  14. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    If you really stop to think about it, don't you have to tell to show? Even if I show you smoke to hint at a fire, aren't I still telling you that the smoke is there? Or that the air smells like smoke? Or that a dark, rolling cloud of black... well, smoke, is passing overhead? To say "never tell" is just... well, silly.

    Like other people have been saying, it's all about the proper balance and usage of both. Show us what's important, tell us what isn't. :-D
     
  15. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    I've just finished reading the Gormenghast trilogy. In "Gormenghast", there is a long action scene where three of our heroes (!?) follow the villain and discover his crime scene and murder victims, and then confront the villain (I'm being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers somewhat). At the end of the passage where this happens - which was all "show" - I was emotionally exhausted. A "tell" passage then says what happened in the period of time following those events, and by taking a step back made it easier for me to keep reading.

    Writing should be mostly "show", but using passages of "tell" can help the rhythm and readability - especially when the action has been intense. Repetitive action probably should be "told" as well - if a sportsman protagonist plays in twenty matches, we don't need a blow-by-blow account of all of them.
     
  16. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ask Nabokov about telling versus showing.
     

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