1. Shadow Dragon
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    Shadow Dragon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Show vs Tell

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Shadow Dragon, Nov 2, 2008.

    Ok, so the whole s vs t thing is by far my biggest problem with my writing. I was wondering if you guys have any tips on how to do more showing rather than just telling.
     
  2. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm sure it's much more expansive than this, but what I try to do is describe characters through their actions as opposed to a listed description of them. For example, this would be telling:

    "John entered the room. He had long blond hair and dark eyes."

    Whereas this would be showing:

    "John entered the room, his dark eyes glinting in the light. He began to speak to the crowd, brushing back his long blond hair in the process."

    Of course, I could be completely off base with this. I think the idea is to present information about the characters and their setting through the forward movement of events rather than as an "info-dump."
     
  3. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    Actually, this line is the same as the first if you remove the extras.

    You have to tell regardless so what you're really doing is telling about an action without directly stating the action.

    Like instead of telling, "He was angry."

    You can show it be saying, "He grunted in dismay."

    Think of it as defining a word. You have to use other words to define one word.
     
  4. Jade
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    Jade Active Member

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    For emotions it's quite easy I think.
    vs
    It’s easier to imagine that you are actually there in the scene. You can’t read minds, so you don’t know for certain that Sam is happy, but rather you can see the external signs which you can then describe.
     
  5. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe the best way to learn is to examine good fiction as you read it. I re-read particularly fine examples and dissect the mechanics of how the story was put together. It's fine for someone to just say, "show dont tell" but you need a frame of reference to understand how.

    Also it's not necessary to create a laundry list of description about your character, then make sure you stuff it all in there. Leave some of it to the readers imagination. I've never found myself wondering in a story, "why didn't the author tell me what the MC was wearing on tuesday?" And if her hair was up or down.

    It's your quirks and your actions that make up who you are, in real life and in fiction. Not what you wear or what your hairstyle was on some particular day.

    Let's say your MC is a beautiful female college student who is very shy, and maybe has some self-image issues. Don't tell us that. Show her getting unwanted male attention, and how it makes her uncomfortable. By showing how she reacts to the attention she gets, we can mentally project someone we have met or known. How can you get any more real than that?
     
  6. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    Use dialoge for showing. Example:

    Tell:
    "I hope you won't blame for what I've done" said John. But Mary looked so angry, so she stood up and reached for the door.

    Show:
    "I hope you won't blame me for what I've done... Oh God, no... don't leave Mary, I can understand you're mad at me but I can explain everything".
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also, make use of your own senses. Instead of simply saying that there was a storm outside, write what the storm looks like or sounds like. Describe the behaviour of the people watching it from inside, or walking in it. Instead of saying that the sidewalk was icy, describe the way the sidewalk feels under the character's feet.
     
  8. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    For me its allowing the thought processes of the MC to be in nearly every paragraph...while I have first person lines of thought, I like to throw in for example: "Sometimes no matter how hard you tried, she mused, things just never went right. This was going to be one of those times..."
     
  9. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    Here's my take. Use what works for you, discard the rest.

    Fred waited impatiently for the inept salesman to ring up his order.

    This may basically tell you exactly what is going on, but little else.

    Fred ground his teeth and his fingers tapped a stacatto rhythm on the counter. He watched the salesman puzzling over the cash register and was reminded of a raccoon with a slide rule. "At least I know this store has a very active hire-the-handicapped program," he thought.
     
  10. Teele
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    Teele Contributing Member

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    All good points. Another tip that I've seen brought up elsewhere is to limit the description to your character's point of view. From that character's attitude and perspective, what exactly will he/she notice? A character well-versed (and maybe obsessed) with fashion may notice every detail of someone's clothing; a cop will notice body language; a computer geek won't care much about either.

    I know I struggle with this very thing myself. I have a terrible tendency for info-dumps. :D
     
  11. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Listen to Jade.

    She nailed it spot on.
     
  12. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Don't forget that each of us have different writing styles that bring that to pass. There are ways to say the same thing she did in a much shorter, better flowing way too. And like I said in a above post, I have a different way of doing it, one that is my style...someone else might be completely different. ;)


     
  13. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    Possibly the best post in the whole thread. This actually helped me a lot as well. Thanks.
     
  14. jackie0109
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    jackie0109 Banned

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    Try to use more descriptive words or even put some onomatopeia speech on your story in able for you to show your readers the story rather than telling them.
     
  15. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    He stormed out of of their bedroom.

    He slammed his fist into the wall and said, "Dammit! How could you do this to me, you slut?"

    She flinched. Then with tears in her eyes she said, "We didn't do anything. I swear."

    I think if you pretend that you are watching the silver screen, and at the same time pretend you are the director, camera man, actors, etc, and paint with words the movie on that screen, you will do fine.

    That is how I learned to show. I try to remember with every word I write that I am trying to put images on that screen, and not simply convey ideas.

    If I said he was angry, that sort of paints an image on the screen, but I am mostly conveying information. When I write that he stormed out of the room and slammed his fist into the wall, that paints a concise image.
     
  16. Speedy
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    Speedy Contributing Member Contributor

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    Pretty much how i try to do things as well.
     
  17. Little Miss Edi
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    Little Miss Edi Contributing Member

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    I'm guessing it's pretty bad that I never really thought about the tell vs. show side of things all that much.

    All the examples people have used thus fair contain more dialogue for the 'showing' then in the 'telling' so, does that mean dialogue is really important in 'showing' or is it possible still to 'show' the reader without (not, obviously, completely without dialogue but not neccessarily replacing description with dialogue [I suck at dialogue :( ])

    Hope that makes some semblence of sense.
     
  18. Shadow Dragon
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    Shadow Dragon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lucky for me, dialogue is usually the best part of my writing. It's in the descriptive part that I usually fail at showing. I think it's just what the one person on here has said, describe how the characters are feeling with just flatout saying they are angry/sad/happy/etc.
     
  19. RIPPA MATE
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    RIPPA MATE Contributing Member

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    I personally think dialogue is a cheat way of showing.
    I'm not saying that you shouldn't do it, i'm saying you shouldn't overdo it; using dialogue when it isn't necessary.
    My point is, don't use dialogue for the sole purpose of showing. It is try hard and takes away from the brilliance of descriptive writing.

    Jade used dialogue in her showing beautifully, as it was necessary. A reader would expect a reaction (getting a awesome present) to show dialogue.

    Remember dialogue's main purpose is to show characterisation.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How is that not showing?

    If you use dialogue to convey description, as I think you might be saying, that would generally be tealling, not showing.

    I'm not trying to nitpick. I'm genuinely confused as to what you mean.
     
  21. Little Miss Edi
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    Little Miss Edi Contributing Member

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    So... maybe I missed something, what's wrong with telling? :confused:

    I see what you mean about dialogue helping out characterisation, and I appreciate that you need to do a little more then 'john was happy' but what's wrong with something like:

    " Jane’s eyes narrowed in a flash. Above the crackle of the fire, there was the hiss of her breath being drawn through her teeth. "

    That's telling isn't it? I'm just telling you what her face is doing and what I could hear if I were there... Or does that count as showing? And what's (using only simple words - it's monday and my brain is aching) the difference?
     
  22. Teele
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    Teele Contributing Member

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    That's what we're talking about. What you just wrote is an example of showing. Telling would be as follows:

    "Jane was angry."

    Or something along those lines. Also, telling is the tendency (that I unfortunately have) to info-dump a bunch of information that can be revealed later, as the story goes.

    It is generally better to show than to tell.

    Somebody correct me if I'm totally off the mark. :p
     
  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Correct, Teele, that is showing the emotion. and telling is simply stating the emotion. But you would rarely see that kind of example in dialogue. Your example is more typical of narration.

    Consider Jack, walking down a country road with his friend.

    Jack said, "This is beautiful country." (telling)

    Jack said, "Oh, look at that sky! Incredible!" (showing his reactiojn to the scenery)

    Jack said, "So. When can we head back to the city? Soon?" (showing the opposite reation to thge scenery)

    <on his cell phone> Jack said, "We're on a dirt path, lined with oak trees, and a blue sky." (telling. Scene description stuffed into dialogue. No one is fooled, by the writier's trick).

    To decide whether it is showing or telling, determine what the message is that the writer is trying to convey. If the message is spoken directly, it's telling. If the writer leads you indirectly to the message, without actually stating it, it's showing. If you don't know what the message really is, you can't truly call it either one.
     
  24. RomanticRose
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    RomanticRose Active Member

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    There is not a thing wrong with the above sentence. I would consider it "showing", mainly because you leave the reader the chance to draw their own conclusions. Depending on what comes before or after, the above actions could mean she was angry, afraid, suspicious, perhaps even aroused.

    In some ways "showing" means to give the reader credit for intelligence. If my MC just had a fender bender and he's shouting and gesticulating wildly at the other driver, there's no need to state, "John was angry." His actions 'show' the reader.

    "Telling" often equates to spoonfeeding the reader informatioin that has more impact if you let them reach that conclusion themselves.

    Hope I've helped at least a little.

    RR
     
  25. RIPPA MATE
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    RIPPA MATE Contributing Member

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    Yes i probably didn't explain it very well.

    What i mean is, using dialogue to show characterisation is fine, it should be used that way; unless your using dialogue where it would be out of character.

    Where its wrong is when your trying to show things apart from emotions through dialogue.
    Example (a very bad example):

    'Oh look there goes a car!' exclaimed john, 'boy those guys need to turn that music down."

    When what could have been said through description is

    John scowled as the deep resonance of bass thudded in his ears. He glared at the great rolling bass skidded by.

    Bad example but you get the idea... i hope.
     

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