1. Honeybun
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    Honeybun Active Member

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    Show but do not tell?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Honeybun, Jun 2, 2009.

    What does that specifically mean? Examples would be great :)
     
  2. Dr. Doctor
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    Dr. Doctor Contributing Member

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    Showing would be this:

    Andy kissed Clarissa on the lips. He really loved her. She looked at him, and he realized that no girl had ever looked at him that way before.

    Telling would be this:

    Andy kissed Clarissa on the lips, and his cheeks lit up with excitement. His lips curled into a shy smile as she looked him in the eye. He felt an electric tingle all throughout his body.

    In the second example, it's not telling you that Andy loves her, it's showing you his affection for her through body reactions and other, more subtle things.
     
  3. design007
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    design007 Member

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    Showing Not Telling

    :)Hello Honeybun--

    For me, showing but not telling (as it relates to writing or film) is the mise en scene: the way you frame or set the story or action that conveys much about the people who inhabit or live there, without saying anything--or saying very little.

    For example: From the Grapes of Wrath--by Steinbeck (both as screenplay and book)

    AN OKLAHOMA PAVED HIGHWAY in daylight. At some distance,
    hoofing down the highway, comes Tom Joad. He wears a new
    stiff suit of clothes, ill-fitting, and a stiff new cap,
    which he gradually manages to break down into something
    comfortable. He comes down the left side of the road, the
    better to watch the cars that pass him. As he approaches,
    the scene changes to a roadside short-order RESTAURANT on
    the right side of the road. From it comes the sound of a
    phonograph playing a 1939 popular song. In front of the eatery
    is a huge Diesel truck labeled: OKLAHOMA CITY TRANSPORT
    COMPANY. The driver, a heavy man with army breeches and high-
    laced boots, comes out of the restaurant, the screen door
    slamming behind him. He is chewing on a toothpick. A waitress
    appears at the door, behind the screen.

    Hope this helps a little.
     
  4. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    There can be many examples, but one example I was given:

    In a writing group, I was told of one sample of my work that my overuse of adverbs was an example of telling, not showing.

    The following is an example (I just made up) of replacing "telling" adverbs with "showing" description.


    "I don't know," he said nervously.

    That's telling.

    "I don't know," he said. Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead despite the cold; he brushed them aside with trembling hands.

    That's showing.

    Charlie
     
  5. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    Telling:

    Fred waited impatiently for his order.

    Showing:

    Fred drummed his fingers on the counter. Those idiots didn't even deserve the minimum wage they were paid, he thought. He tilted his head from one side to the other, trying to break the stress in his shoulders and neck. Before the smiling teen could say a word, Fred snapped, "I hope you didn't get in too big a rush."
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Showing" uses the senses and behaviour, and "telling" simply states facts, e.g. instead of saying, "She was afraid," tell us what happens within her body when she is afraid, and what she does becase she is afraid.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Telling:
    Showing:
    Note that showing doesn't have to be wordier than telling. Telling often involves revealing subjective matters like sensations and moods directly - he thought, she felt, it was hot, etc. Showing displays the cues that allow the observer to know or guess what is going on instead of saying it directly.

    Telling:
    Showing:
     
  8. SingToMeMuse
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    SingToMeMuse Member

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    This thread is brilliant! I've always struggled with working less tell and more show, these examples are very helpful.
     
  9. Mister URL
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    Mister URL Member

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    The implication is that showing is better than telling. But frankly, on all of these examples, the meaning is clear both ways. Is the point that readers like showing better, and therefore it is more commercial to show?
     
  10. Dr. Doctor
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    Dr. Doctor Contributing Member

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    I think it's just a matter of better writing. In the examples in this thread, the "telling" ones are...frankly, boring, and I don't know who would disagree on that.
     
  11. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mister URL, the reason "showing" is better is because simply the fact that "She was scared." is bland and boring, and could mean so many different things. Everyone's body reacts differently to fear. Everyone does something different when they are afraid. The statement may be clear, but it's vague and boring. It's more fun to read the "showing" version because it helps us feel what the character is feeling, and allows us to get to know the character far better than just saying, "She was scared" ever would.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Showing also tebds to preserve point of view better, Instead of swooping into a character's thoughts, you present direct observations that you could actually experience standing at a point close toi the action. It helps preserve the illusion that you are actually there. Most of us can;t read other people's thoughts, but when given te external indications, we can draw the same conclusions.

    Also, emotions tend to be complex. Sbowing the external signs is more subtle, and can convey mistures of emotions far more effectively than any combination of direct statements.
     
  13. Honeybun
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    Honeybun Active Member

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    Wow! It's all clear to me now. At first it got me really confused as to what it referred to, and I also realized that that's one of my weaknesses in writing. Thanks for the examples they were great!!

    Dr. Doctor, design, charlie, Romantic, Rei, Cogito, Singtome, and Mister ... I couldn't leave you out...

    :) Thanks guys!
     
  14. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    I'd even critique this a little bit. Saying his "cheeks lit up with excitement" is still telling. Also, in my opinion there are certain things that are okay to "tell". For example, I think it's okay to directly tell that No girl had ever looked at him that way before. It's a fact, something outside the perception of their interaction. Here is how I personally would write that statement:

    Andy felt Clarissa's warm sweet lips press against his and a rush of electricity tingled through his being. When he pulled back and saw the innocent shine in her eyes, he couldn't help but smile. No girl had ever looked at him that way before.
     
  15. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    While that is a good example of showing vs telling, I also think it's important to remember that the show not tell rule isn't ALWAYS set in stone. Depending on the flow of the storyline, there are times where I'd prefer to simply use "He said nervously". Sometimes too much description bogs things down. It's all about finding the proper balance between showing and telling.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. Show vs. tell is a guideline, not a rule. Sometimes it is more expedient to tell, or better for the pace, etc.

    However, in general, showing is better for characterization because of the range of interpretation offered to the reader. Also, description shown rather than told, as in my sweltering hot day example, encourages te reader to experience the description instead of just seeing it.

    On the oter hand, not every mood needs to be conveyed subtly.
    This is telling, but may be perfectly adequate for the context. Showing it would probably require more words without conveying contentment any better.

    So showing vs. telling is not an absolute, but is always worth considering.

    It is a myth that showing always requires more words than telling. With moods and emotions, telling accurately may require a much longer description than showing, especially where there is ambivalence or conflicting feelings.
     
  17. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    ^Oh yes, definitely true. I was more referring to the example I quoted, where I felt being shown the characters sweaty nervousness was a bit overkill.
     
  18. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    True. For fun, I'll try to prove that.

    Telling:

    "Excuse me," she said, trying desperately to get someone's attention.

    Showing:

    "Excuse me," she said, waving her hand.

    Showing, in fewer words than telling. :D
     
  19. Honeybun
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    Honeybun Active Member

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    Ok let's see if I can give it a try... ahem ahem

    Telling:

    Alan sat on a stool in the kitchen, staring anxiously at the clock as it ticked.

    Showing:

    Alan sat on a stool in the kitchen, hands on his knees, grasping them till his knuckles turned white as he glared at the clock.

    How was that?
     
  20. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    Telling usually causes me to have a reaction. It's never a good reaction either. I read a sentence, or a passage, and think to myself: That could either have been shown to me, or completely cut. OR worse it is telling me something I already knew or assumed, which in turn annoys me.

    When I write, or re-write, I always try to either eliminating telling, or change it into something that shows the reader what I am trying to tell them.

    The only time I use telling is in dialog, or internal summery narrative. An example of the internal dialog given from the narrator to the reader, would be thinking about someone they knew, telling the reader a little snapshot of this other person. They are usually hard facts though, like: So-n-So is a doctor. Or She's in the PTA with me. Those kinds of things are hard facts and thus can be told. Telling the reader about the character's personality though through narrative summery, is almost always better shown in some interaction than told flat out as fact. Because it is opinion, not fact.

    I guess that is how I separate telling from showing. Is something I am saying a hard fact, or an interpretation from the narrator POV opinion? For me it is ok to tell the reader hard facts, if appropriate. Otherwise, it is better to show the reader why the narrator has that opinion or perception.

    Jenn
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Showing will emphasize the message, and that isn't always desirable. Also, sometimes a simple tell is more eloquent in its simplicity.

    I added a new blog entry last night, Show and Tell.
     
  22. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Except you conveyed two different messages. The first one let me know that she was desperate for attention; the second gave absolutely no hint at her emotional state. :rolleyes:
     
  23. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Okay... waving her hand frantically.

    (I know my example isn't perfect, it's just an example. I'm sure I can have a much better and polished example to the editor before my six month deadline. Unless it rains within the next six months.) ;)
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The more you practice showing, the more natural it becomes to you.
     
  25. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Thanks, Cognito, and for your great blog entry as well.

    For the first time in a while, I went back to my novel today. I immediately was able to apply some of this there.

    A point that might help others:

    It occurred to me as I was working, the importance of point of view in applying how we "show." Showing in some cases can be good, but remember if you're writing from limited third-person following a particular character's point of view that you should only "show" what that character can see. Your character cannot see himself (or herself.) Therefore, you can't "show" your POV character's face, except perhaps, in a reflection.

    I had to really think about how to show, rather than tell, my POV character's feelings. My character was fatigued, but I didn't want to say, "she was fatigued," I wanted to show it. I was tempted momentarily to describe her red eyes and drooping eyelids. Then it occurred to me that she can't see her own face. Instead, I had her rubbing her eyes (with no mention of the appearance of her eyes) and then, think about her long drive.

    Charlie
     

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