1. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Showing and telling: How much?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cazann34, Jan 11, 2013.

    As many of us do, I tend to 'tell' in my writing rather than 'show' A problem I am trying to solve. I'm fully aware that a good piece of writing should have both, telling and showing. Too much telling and your writing reads like a list. Too much showing and your writing is cursed with 'purple prose' My question is what should the ratio be: 80/20 (80% showing and 20% telling) 60/40 (60% showing and 40% telling) or 50/50 (equal amounts)

    What are your thoughts?
     
  2. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think there's any ratio that could apply to all writing. It all depends on what your work needs in a given scene. If it needs showing, you should show. If it's better with telling, you should tell.
     
  3. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    I also believe that there is no exact ratio ratio.

    There is a balance, however, but there are many ways to achieve it and not one single method.

    Just avoid the common mistakes and errors and you're bound to reach one of the better solutions.

    Edit: The guy under me got it right.
    Just stick to what's currently important.
     
  4. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree -- I don't think there's a magic ratio. But I don't think I've ever heard the criticism, 'you show too much. Just tell us some of this stuff.' I'd say to err on the side of showing too much and then, when editing, if there are scenes you need to take out, because they're not adding enough, then you can just tell us what was in that scene.

    Try to keep an eye on what's important. Sometimes it is better to just say, "I ate dinner and got into bed," rather than showing us his taking chicken out of the fridge, cutting it up, sauteing it in a pan, adding carrots, soy sauce, snow peas and water chestnuts, cutting into the chicken to make sure it's done, opening the refrigerator and grabbing a coke and then sitting down at the kitchen table. Cutting and chewing. Then putting the dishes in the dishwasher, walking upstairs, taking off his pants, brushing his teeth, pulling back the comforter, and getting into bed.

    If it's an important scene, show us. If you just need to show the close of a day or the passage of time, or segue to the next scene, you can just tell us.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Please read Show and Tell. As others have said, there is no ideal ratio. You just have to understand when telling is more effective, and when showing works better, and make the choice accordingly at each point in the story.
     
  6. Scarfe
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    Scarfe Member

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    If there was a magic ratio we would all do it, depends entirely on circumstance. As a general rule though people hate being told, they do not mind being shown.
     
  7. Ian J.
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    Ian J. Active Member

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    I think it depends on how much information relevant to the story or character needs to be imparted to the reader. If it's a relatively small amount that would require a longish show to be effective, then it's better to sum up and tell (as in the example in chicagoliz's reply above). If, however, the information can be shown efficiently, then it's better to do so.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Contrary to common belief, showing isn't necessarily wordier than telling. Showing often contains more information, just presented in a package with fuzzier boundaries. To really be compared, the telling would have to carry the same quantity f information.

    An equivalent piece of showing may not convey much, but neither does the telling. A single sentence of telling is like a rectangle drawn on the paper. The showing is a smudge of shading or color. By itself, neither conveys much. You can put a name to a rectangle. However, adding more rectangle or adding more smudges builds up to a ruch image. The smudges give more of a sense of depth, but the outlines sharply define shape. They look quite different, but as a good artist knows how to work with both shapes and shading, a good writing needs to be adept at both telling and showing.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    only if you write purple prose... the amount of 'telling' in a piece of work has nothing to do with purple prose...
     
  10. Jon M
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    Jon M Member

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    A year ago I would have screamed from the rooftops 100% SHOWING, but now I am more inclined to say 80% Telling, 20% Show.

    By the way, I loathe those terms and feel slightly idiotic now after using them. Time to go shower.
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Cog nails it - love his analogy of shading and outline. Totally agree :)

    Golden rules in writing are more like guidelines anyway :rolleyes:
     
  12. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, usually the amateurs that these terms are directed to aren't really experienced enough to tell the difference and end up writing purple prose as a result. I think a lot of the "popular writing advice" is really only useful to the more experienced authors who know how to properly apply it, and therefore no longer need it. Funny how that works.

    Really, I think the terms "show" and "tell" need to be backburned. It always feels awkward when I used them in critiques.
     

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