1. MeadhbhMoryx
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    MeadhbhMoryx Member

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    'Show Don't Tell' is kicking my butt!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MeadhbhMoryx, Feb 1, 2016.

    Hello Friends,

    I am a novice in the art of fiction writing and By Jove is 'Show Don't Tell kicking my butt! I can 'Tell' until the cows come home but the 'Show' part I find a real struggle with. I absolutely understand the concepts,
    (she says sheepishly)
    I know why I need to do it. I get that it is: See, Feel, Hear..etc, and yet I find it particularly challenging. Specifically the Feel.
    God-damn I don't know how to describe bodily sensations. 'Her skin prickled with heat'. This almost seems the best I can do.
    This tread is perhaps a FAQ that y'all are sick of answering, if so my sincere apologises...however I will continue.
    Do any of you guys out there have this same struggle? Are there any books, blogs, articles..etc, or any piece of beautiful wisdom anybody has heard that they found particularly useful or insightful when it comes to this challenge.
    Does anyone know of a comprehensive book, particularly one that addresses how to describe bodily sensations so that I may learn to indicate the emotion without overtly saying 'her chest tightened WITH FEAR'.
    Essentially kind people, any help whatsoever one is willing to offer me against my 'Show Don't Tell' Nemesis would be greatly appreciated!
    Thanks!
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    From someone who's been there, it just takes practice.

    'her chest tightened WITH FEAR'. The reader will get it from the rest of the scene without being told.

    I use Google a lot. You'd be surprised what you get with simple search string of "how to write [fill in the blank]."
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    First thing to realize is "show don't tell," judged in a vacuum, is bollocks. Writing is a combination of both, and some works veer quite heavily to one side or the other and come out perfectly good. So the first thing you need to decide, in any given instance, is whether what you're doing with "telling" is effective. If it works, and it's effective, don't change it just because it is telling. Judge that bit of your work in the context of the whole, and what you're trying to accomplish, and then decide whether your purposes are better served by "showing."

    Once you've gotten past that point, to get to your question: do internet searches on physiological responses to fear, cold, or what have you. You don't need to buy a book, the web has a ton of info on this stuff.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Good example. Her chest tightened + contextual link with scene = FEAR. The tightened chest is the mythical show. :agreed: @GingerCoffee is correct in that it just takes practice. Not only in how to execute it, but, as @Steerpike also mentions above, when to execute it, because all show is just as crap as all tell. It takes both. The when is fully dependent on what's happening in the scene, the effect you are after, etc. There's no here's how that anyone can give you. Practice, practice, practice.
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Of course 'all show' is not the point. But you have to learn how to show before you can learn when to show. I think some people forget (or maybe they're more gifted and never went through the stage) that a new writer often stumbles with mostly all telling at the beginning.
     
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  7. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    Just thought I'd jump in with a bit of solidarity for the OP. "Show, don't tell" is one of my biggest hurdles too.

    Whatever you do, don't let it stop your writing process. I often find myself with a scene half-typed, finished in my head but unable to transcribe it because I'm obsessing trying to find the perfect words.

    A more prominent mantra than "Show, don't tell" should be "Write first, edit later," at least in my opinion. If you have to tell to simply get the words out, so be it. It's not the end of the world. Get the scene down first, then weave your magic, and as above posters have mentioned, it's all about balance between show and tell, guided by whatever effect you're trying achieve.

    And above all, practice makes perfect. :agreed:
     
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  8. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    When you write a given passage, it will fall under one of two categories: summary or scene.

    Scene is when you depict an event in "real-time." This is where you would show stuff. Summary is when you summarize need-to-know info that's not important to the story.

    If you're writing a detective short story, and your detective is interrogating a witness, and if this conversation is vital to the story, you would write it as a scene; the conversation would be shown. If it wasn't vital to the story, you would simply tell the reader that the detective interviewed so-and-so and learned/didn't learn anything. Another example: you would probably use summary to tell the reader that the detective drove to the crime scene. (Nobody wants to read two pages of a detective driving from point A to B if nothing relevant happens during that drive.)

    So just figure out which parts of your story you want to dramatize as scene (this is where you "show"), and all the in-between "scene-connectors" you'd quickly tell the reader in the form of summary (or "telling").

    Here's an example from Robert J. Sawyer's short story The Shoulders of Giants to illustrate this concept. The first paragraph summarizes essential info that doesn't need to be shown; several minutes is compressed as events are simply told. The second paragraph is a transition between summary and the slow-down to the "real-time" of scene, which begins as the narrator meets Bokket face-to-face:

    #

    [Summary] Bokket himself came to collect us. His spherical ship was tiny compared with ours, but it seemed to have about the same amount of habitable interior space; would the ignominies ever cease? Docking adapters had changed a lot in a thousand years, and he wasn't able to get an airtight seal, so we had to transfer over to his ship in space suits. Once aboard, I was pleased to see we were still floating freely; it would have been too much if they'd had artificial gravity.

    [Transition/Scene] Bokket seemed a nice fellow — about my age, early thirties. Of course, maybe people looked youthful forever now; who knew how old he might actually be? I couldn't really identify his ethnicity, either; he seemed to be rather a blend of traits. But he certainly was taken with Ling — his eyes popped out when she took off her helmet, revealing her heart-shaped face and long, black hair.

    "Hello," he said, smiling broadly.

    Ling smiled back. "Hello. I'm Ling Woo, and this is Toby MacGregor, my co-captain."

    #

    See how it works? Nobody wants to read five pages of docking with a space station in real-time.

    Just remember: summary is where you tell, and scene is where you show.
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Practice - totally agree with this.
    Also get in touch with your own feelings and emotions and examine them. Even spark some - approach someone you have a crush on and start a conversation, try a food that in the past you couldn't stand to see if you still feel the same about it, attempt something you've never tried before, go someplace new. Jot down what you're thinking, feeling, experiencing.

    I think sometimes feelings get hard to describe because routines can dull our capability to tap into things. You want to start thinking like a writer and being alert to grabbing things ( experiences, emotions, visuals ) that will become gold for your characters.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2016
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  10. plothog
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    If you did want a book with a lot of this stuff in one place. The Emotion Thesaurus isn't bad for this sort of stuff, though you'll still have to do some of the work to convey the emotion. A lot of the suggestions are 'chest tightened' sort of things where it could suggest a variety of emotions, but combining it with thoughts/dialogue/ circumstances can often work.
     
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  11. MeadhbhMoryx
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    MeadhbhMoryx Member

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    EVERYBODY..thank you!!
    Your responses have been wonderful and massively helpful. I want to try respond to everyone because truly it was all awesome sauce for me, I feel less overwhelmed now!
    Here goes..
    Yes exactly, practise, practise, practise.
    It does not exist in a vacuum but a combination of both, and as was said- thoughts/dialogue/circumstances.
    Use internet searches. Thank you kind people! I had a desperately hopeful idea that there might exist some magical book that would explain this mystical ability to me and it will all be okay in the end! :)
    Thanks for the solidarity, to my shame I was glad to find others have had this same struggle. Telling is natural to me but as was pointed out though, this is often a common hurdle for beginners.
    Yes exactly, I need to learn how to do it and then I can choose.
    It stopped my writing process dead today. 'Her skin prickled' and then BANG....shit shit shit!! I have the scene all done in my head, so much so, I thought for a moment I had already written it and it was time for the next one!
    I am so glad to have joined this site. You guys are great! I am very happy to be here.
    Yes! Thank you, 'Write first, Edit Later' then weave my magic...and Practise!!
    Yes- exactly I agree. It can be hard to tap into things. My poor MC is riding a horse around in the snow being attacked from all directions and I am cosy in my bed having never rode a horse in my life!
    I absolutely agree with the advice of doing more mindful living that informs your creative process!
    'Think like a writer and read critically'. I am beginning to try do this. It is also something I am trying to learn.
    Sometimes it feels exponential, I have so much to learn, there are so many possibilities!!
    Deep breaths, calm thoughts, It is a process, learning and otherwise and that is okay!
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    This isn't how I interpret "show, don't tell." I interpret it as "demonstrate, don't explain." And, really, "When something is important, demonstrate, don't explain."

    While demonstration can be about sensory input, it certainly doesn't need to be.
     
  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Why didn't we get invited to the Let's Name the Writing Things meeting? :bigmeh: :-D

    @ChickenFreak's renaming of the dynamic is, in my opinion, much more accurate. Sadly, we don't always get to name the things we talk about... :bigconfused: Someone gave a long example previously that doesn't really hit the nail on the head because you can go to great lengths to explain something in detail, and it's still tell, not show. Demonstrate the fear (tightened chest, prickly sweat breaking out along her back) is show; Explain the fear (she had never been so terribly frightened in all her life) is tell, even if it's detailed.
     
  14. Fernando.C
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    Fernando.C Active Member

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    I'll just add one more thing to what others have already said. Sometimes when I struggle with how to describe my characters feelings and reactions to things, I try to imagine myself in their shoes. I close my eyes and picture myself standing where my character stands, hearing what she/he hears, seeing what he/she sees. if he's trapped in a say, burning building, I picture myself in that building with him and try to find what I feel being in that situation, how I would react.

    I'm not saying it always works, but the good thing is that when it does work, you're left with an authentic and personal way of describing you're characters emotions, because you've just felt them yourself. while this is not a definite solution to the 'show don't tell' problem I find it to be good practice for it. anyway hope it helps! :bigwink:
     
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  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm with those voting for a renaming. But I think I'd want a term without any use of the word "don't", because I think there are definitely times to explain, as well.

    My closest version is "Write vividly and avoid interpreting/explaining too much," with that handy "too much" in there to make it clear there needs to be some judgement used.

    Why is nothing ever simple?
     
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  16. AdDIct
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    Ooooo I feel you on this point. I used to be told I told too much too. Generally speaking from what I've noticed anything like "she was afraid" that deals with a direct emotion is considered "telling" personally saying "Her skin prickled with heat" isn't really telling if you're trying to say that wherever she is is hot. Granted you could potentially go about it a slightly more abstract way and describe her setting as dry and instead of saying "Her skin prickled with heat." you could say "Her skin was slick with sweat, her clothes clinging to her lower back as the sun blazed relentlessly against her" Or some variation of that.

    Fear comes in many forms, but yeah like others have said, it's pretty much writing the sensations/attributes of that emotion instead of saying the emotion itself.

    What do you feel in fear? In anger? Think about that in it's forms and also ask others and it'll give you tools to use to allow people to fill in the blanks themselves.
     
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  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I agree in full. The only thing worse than the confusion of using the words show and tell is the word don't in between the two. It's easily the most poorly worded term/advice/doohicky ever. And for it to be a part of the world of writing is pretty ironic.

    My last bit of advice to the OP concerning show and tell (or demonstrate and explain...). Very soon, this thread, like all others before it, is going to go down a certain path. It's just the nature of this discussion.

    It goes like this:

    See this pretty graphic I made you? (I like graphics!) It shows that, like most things, there is a progression from one thing to the other. There will be examples that are clearly Show/Demonstrate and others that are clearly Tell/Explain. And then there's all the stuff in the middle, and worse, the things that don't answer to this paradigm at all.

    show tell.png

    See the grey line there between the two? Very soon this discussion is going to become about telling the difference between 2 pixels to the left of the grey line and 2 pixels to the right. That's where things start to get messy and confusing because as you'll notice from the graphic, there's almost no difference in color just to either side of that grey line. This is where we quibble and argue and present umpteen different examples that are easily argued to fall on either side of the line. If you are having trouble with the Show & Tell dynamic, as you honestly admit in your original post, as soon as the conversation goes that direction, my advice is to pull back. Spend your time, now, focusing on what is obviously blue and obviously green. Work your way slowly, through practice in writing, to the middle. Don't start in the middle and hope to wrap your head around it there. That's a fool's errand.

    Make sense?
     
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  18. Tea@3
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    Tea@3 Contributing Member

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    My background is in screenwriting which naturally cultivates this skill moreso than in other types of writing, I think.

    I believe you can cultivate the skill for yourself, really, with practice as Ginger said.

    Here's what I would do.

    1. First, relax. Don't expect to be an expert at it in two days. Just relax, and say "I will learn some each day and mark my measured growth for this skill over time." Then when you take a look at yourself a few months from now, you are likely to notice significant growth.
    2. Second, focus on evidence of things happening rather than the thing itself. If that makes sense? Think of a more visible indirect way to say it. Instead of saying 'She became angry' focus on the outward (translation - visible) manifestations of it: 'Her eyes narrowed. Her face became red'. I think screenwriters do this automatically because it's the only way we CAN convey something, because we only have the camera. It's all got to visible, or it didn't happen.
    3. I would say do some exercises under no pressure, just playing around, like: write ten 'tell' sentences double spaced on a sheet of paper then try to rewrite each one by saying it in a new way that's more evidence-based. Either make up some random tell sentences, or take some from your old manuscripts.
    4. Read and pay attention to how other authors handle descriptions, in books you like.
    5. And mainly, very important IMO, don't get hung up on this as you are drafting your story, just let your story flow out then come back and make these refinements later. I think if you focus on this as you go along you may end up suffering from 'paralysis by analysis'. I'd pay more attention to what I was saying first, then polish my style when re-writing.

    :cheerleader:
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2016

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