1. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Should I tell the readers...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Gallowglass, May 8, 2009.

    ...or should my characters?

    Do you prefer telling your readers a lot of the important in the text or letting them work out the non-essential details through what the characters say, do, and imply?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Three words: Show, don't tell.

    It is the essence of storytelling. Maybe they should call it storyshowing instead.
     
  3. Emmy
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    Emmy Member

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    I'll be honest...I like it much better when the characters tell me what's going on through dialogue. I'm ok with a bit of explanation from the narrator/writer, but mostly, my interest is held when the dialogue reveals the story. I like a lot of dialogue - it breaks up the longer passages that I can sometimes blank out on.

    No, I'm not ADD. =)
     
  4. burned_out
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    burned_out Member

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    What happens with me is usually I'll express it in another chapter and see if it fits, try to come up with a big story about it, but then I just end up having the characters tell--sorry, show--me/others through their dialogue.
     
  5. Still Life
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    Still Life Active Member

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    " Show not tell" is also a good rule to keep in mind, but I do believe in using one's discretion. It's your story, and before it's even at a stage where you can share it with someone else, only you can judge whether it works or not.

    But, yes, I do prefer having my readers family and friends exercise some of those brain cells. If I ever do become a writer, I bet I'm going to do the same for those readers. And like Emmy mentioned, dialogue - whether said or unsaid - is the preferable way to go about it (for me, at least).
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on what kind of details you're talking about. Some stuff, you need to just say or show it in a way that is obvious. Others, you don't. Use your own judgement and trust your readers. Give us two plus two. We'll come up with four on our own. Even if we sometimes don't make the conscious connection, we will understand.

    E.G.
    In Memoirs of a Geisha, a character explains that the kimono belongs to the Geisha House (Okiya) and not the Geisha herself and then talks about how it could take a life-time to earn the money to pay for one. In that way, without actually saying it, she explains one reason a Geisha needs to live in an okiya. Living there, they always have lots of different kimono to wear, because they would never be able to earn the money to buy enough of their own.
     
  7. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Show dont tell is such a cliche. Try something new.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If "show don't tell" is a cliche, what about "write what you know", "learn to spell", "learn punctuation", and so on?

    Just because you've heard the advice repeated endlessly, that doesn''t make it a cliche. That makes it a time honored guideline not to casually dismissed.

    "That's a cliche" is the biggest cliche of all.
     
  9. Credulous Skeptic
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    Credulous Skeptic Member

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    Great authors, who are smarter than many of us here, sometimes do need to tell us what is going on. Many times being told what is happening is not only essential, but also delightful. Great authors think above those despicably presumptuous general readers, who sometimes need to be "taken to school."
     
  10. Dr. Doctor
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    Dr. Doctor Contributing Member

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    It promotes good writing. Writing that "tells" the reader everything is usually very boring and droll, and why would anyone NOT want to pull the reader into the story, rather than the blandish alternative?
     
  11. democat
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    I like being told what's going on, without knowing why I'm being told. I often give people information that seems like fluff only to have every word of it to be unveiled as integral to the plot a couple of chapters on. Nick Harkaway does this brilliantly in 'The gone away war'.

    There were large passages that although fitted well within the scene seemed irrelevant to plot. But when they later became relevant it allowed him to flow into the action unhindered by the necessary back story.

    I don't especially like large amounts of dialogue telling a story, I find it difficult to follow. I think the narrator should SHOW the reader the story. When I write I don't narrate as an omnipotent being who knows everything about the story. I instead try to narrate from the point of view of the characters.

    It should be noted that I'm not particularly good at any of the above.
     
  12. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe the expression "Show; don't tell" is misunderstood, and perhaps incorrectly applied as an absolute "rule" in writing. There is a time when slowing the pace might be a welcome break for the reader. In fact, changes of pace are necessary if the high points in a story are to have the desired impact. Adjustments can be achieved while "showing" or "telling" through narration and it's not evil to "tell' . . . just a writing tool that should be used for proper effect. The primary value in discussing this adage is to make writers aware of the tool's application so it can be used with purpose in mind.
     
  13. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm with you on that, as in it's totally misunderstood. I've always thought of it meaning instead of stating facts, use the reader's sense or use actions and events to convey an idea. On the other hand, there are times when you have to just say something. Then there's information like in my previous example. I have no idea how you could "show" in the typical sense why a Geisha needs to live in an Okiya. It would also be boring or awkward to just outright say it, even if knowing that fact is essential to understand the story. So instead, you have characters talk about the reasons for being connected to an okiya, without actually saying "This is why the Geisha lives here", within the story at a logical point in the story to say those things. Like in the film version of Memoirs (I forget how it was done in the book) one character is telling a future Geisha about the current one who is the soul source of income for everyone there, while they are folding kimono. Then the girl asks, "So these are all hers?" Then the other character explains that they belong to the okiya and how much a kimono costs.
     
  14. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Don't stick a fork in a light socket.

    Show don't tell.

    Eat fruit and vegetables.

    If the advice is good, follow it. But there are times telling is needed.
     

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