1. Owen8
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    Owen8 Member

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    Showing and Telling?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Owen8, Jun 19, 2012.

    I've found that I have an odd habit. I'll write a sentence that is very much a telling sentence, but then the next few will be showing. For example, I wrote a sentence that stated the MC was in a forest. Then I described the forest. The description of the forest I think is pretty good, but I'm just not sure why I wrote that first sentence that tells the reader what I'm about to describe.

    Does anyone else do this? And, does anyone have suggestions on how to avoid and/or get rid of writing habits like this?
     
  2. Mr.
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    Telling isn't necessarily bad. The problem is telling 100% of the time, as anything in excess becomes a poison. The showing of being (for a random example) "surrounded by green" wouldn't tell the reader whether I was talking about a jungle or a sewage plant. There's nothing wrong with calling something by its name, and for clarity's sake telling can fill that role. As a reader I don't see a problem with outright saying what you're describing before you start describing it.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    See my blog: Show and Tell
     
  4. Owen8
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    Owen8 Member

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    I have read your blog about show and tell, Cogito, and it was very useful. But I'm not talking about whether I should show or tell. I find myself sometimes showing and telling. Either telling and then showing, or showing then telling. Should I consider this just a trivial idiosyncrasy, or is this something that is considered very bad and I should get rid of?
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Mix them however works best in each individual situation. As long as you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, and use that in your decision, you're on the gold track.

    What I would watch out for is redundancy. If you both show and tell the same thing in close proximity, you may want to remove one or the other, unless you are doing it deliberately for emphasis. But you risk beating the reader senseless with a "duh"-club.
     
  6. msjhord
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    msjhord Member

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    Show don't tell

    Okay, so on another forum to which I post, I have been admonished with the above phrase. How do I break myself of all the telling? Apparently it is a persistent problem. And I want to rectify it. Helllllp!!!!
     
  7. 霊Ray霊
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    霊Ray霊 Member

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    If it's part of your writing nature to tell instead of showing, my advice would be, just keep writing and when you take a break from the story, review it and look closely for that. Sometimes, telling can be better than showing, so try to identify all of your characters actions, reactions, etc and you can easily see where you "tell" and when you "show" and which one would flow better with the story.
    I am sure that after a while of fixing this, you'll naturally develop a writing style that will focus more on showing.
    One more thing, I noticed that I tend to write better when I write in my own native language (duh), even though after it is written I like to review what I just wrote while translating the story. My native language is not English so when I directly write in English, I sometimes feel forced to just simply tell the action rather than showing because of lack of vocabulary at that time, since I can think faster in my mother's tongue than I can with English and have more vocabulary available
     
  8. msjhord
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    msjhord Member

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    Perhaps this is a good idea, Ray. Just write MY way first, just to get it out. And then go back and tighten it up later.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe you're feeling a need to explain specifically what's going on because you don't trust that your less specific descriptions will be understood by the reader. Sometimes it's OK or even necessary to be specific, but you still don't have to spoonfeed a fact to the reader.

    What, you may ask, am I babbling about? Well, you might write:

    James was in the forest. It felt as if he'd been surrounded by foliage forever, blah blah blah....

    Or you might write:

    James trudged through the trees, peering ahead for some sign of the end of the forest. It felt as if he'd been surrounded by foliage forever, blah blah blah...

    In the second example I've used the word "forest", so that the reader won't think that perhaps James is in a small park or an orchard, but there's less of a spoonfeeding air about the way that I introduce that fact.

    Sometimes you don't need to throw in the explanatory word or phrase at all, though. For example:

    James was angry. His jaw set, and his face slowly grew redder as he spoke. "Don't you dare blah blah blah."

    doesn't need the "was angry". Trust that the reader can figure it out:

    James' jaw set, and his face slowly grew redder as he spoke. "Don't you dare blah blah blah."

    Now, the habit of slipping facts in without stating them directly can become dangerous. It's important that the facts are relevant to the piece of narrative that they're slipped into, not just tacked on to it. One of my pet peeves is when people tuck descripton elements into narrative where the description isn't relevant to the current action:

    Shaking back her long blond hair and blinking her green eyes, Jane said...

    I think that this sort of tucking in of descriptive facts is awkward. It's best to leave them out:

    Jane said..

    or find an excuse to express them as part of the narrative:

    Yeah, I'm jealous of Jane. Long blond hair. Green eyes. You thought I was going to say blue, weren't you? No such luck. That would at least give me the consolation of seeing her as a stereotype. Anyway, she said...

    or if no such excuse exists, just describe openly:

    Janet had long blond hair and green eyes. She said...

    Sometimes a statement of fact has a useful impact and you don't want to tuck it away. For example:

    James shook his head. "No. I'm not going camping. I'm not climbing a mountain. I'm not rafting down a river. And I am not, under any circumstances, entering some dark, stinking, tick-infested forest."

    Two days later, James was in the forest.


    I don't know if any of this actually applies to your issue. :) Do you maybe have a few examples?

    ChickenFreak
     
  10. Owen8
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    Well, the novels section I posted the first chapter of the project, so you might find some examples there.

    And yeah, that did help a lot ChickenFreak. Thank you
     
  11. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    And the solution is ... to start with, don't get so hung up on the Show vs Tell. For the love of whatever god you do or don't believe in, stop thinking in terms of either/or in this matter! It is not a choice of one or the other. No good story can work without a fair balance of each. Back in the late 1800's someone made the comment about showing the story and not just telling the story. By the early 1900's people were chiseling the mantra into stone.

    The truth is, you TELL the story. To make the story come alive for the reader, you SHOW the scenes where the story is taking place. You SHOW the environment. You TELL the action. It takes both showing AND telling to make a story complete and, for each story the balance of the two is different. For each author the balance is different. But for any story to be good, it must have its fair share of both showing AND telling.
     
  12. Owen8
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    These are a couple of examples of what I'm talking about.

    "On the other side of the pond there is a stream pouring its water into the pond, and I can faintly hear the water gurgling past the rocks." So for this one, I tell the reader that there is a stream that runs into the pond, then I show something about it.

    "The sun shines brightly, and around the pond I see rays of light penetrating the tops of the trees." And in this example, I tell the reader the sun shines brightly, then I describe the effects of the bright sunshine. So, for both of these examples, I am telling and showing about the same thing in the same sentence. And earlier I edited a part where the MC said he was in a forest, then the next few sentences describe the forest.

    Hopefully this helps to make it more clear what I'm talking about. I'm pretty sure that I understand there is a balance to be found in when you show or tell. But what I specifically want to know is if it is generally not a good idea to show and tell in the same sentence or same paragraph. Or about the exact same thing.
     
  13. michaelj
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    michaelj Senior Member

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    A cOmmon problem I see is people think you need to show ALL the time. So their story ends up being a difficult read. You don't want people trying to work out what you're trying to show, it should come easily for the reader.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Everyone should try, at least once, to write a story with no telling of, say, character thoughts or feelings. (You cannot eliminate telling entirely, you would have no declarative sentences whatsoever).

    Such an exercise will clearly show you (heh) that too much showing can be just as bad as too much telling. My own attempt at such a short piece is Bitter Fruit in my blog.

    Try it yourself. You will gain a clearer perspective on how to balance showing and telling in your writing.
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Find a better forum. Oh, wait, you already have! :)

    "Show, don't tell" is poison, and if anybody offers it as advice then as far as I'm concerned they've destroyed all credibility as a useful critic. It's true that novice writers tend to tell too much and not show enough, but when they get told to "show, don't tell" all too often the result is that they do just that, and produce unreadable garbage because of it -- I've seen lots of it. What makes it worse is that it's something that is sort of objectively testable (although a lot of people get the tests wrong), so if a teacher wants to give little Johnny a poor mark on his creative writing all they have to do is find a couple of instances of telling -- which might actually be the best way of doing that particular bit of writing -- and mark him down for that, knowing that on parents' evening they will be able to "justify" the poor mark. People who don't know about writing get obsessed by it as if it really were an absolute rule.

    The aspiring writer needs to learn what effects showing and telling have, and how to use those effects to get a good balance in the work. If people on the other forum are saying "show, don't tell" then ignore them; either they don't know what they're talking about or they do but are just not being helpful. If, on the other hand, they say "this bit is 'telling', which is having this effect; if you were to 'show' instead then it would have that effect, which I think would be better" -- then they are giving you something useful that you should pay attention to (but still make up your own mind).

    Firstly, I would class both parts of that sentence as "telling", neither of them as "showing". That's not a problem; it's the sort of thing that it's entirely appropriate to tell. It's a bit repetitive, though -- "pond" and "water" twice in quick succession. It can easily be tightened up considerably: "I can faintly hear the water of a stream gurgling past rocks as it pours into the other side of the pond", for example. The original is fine for a draft, but it's worth improving it in the edit.
    I'd say that you show the sun shining brightly, then tell the reader what you see. But the first part is almost completely redundant. You can just say "around the pond I see rays of sunlight penetrating the tops of the trees" (telling, if you want to stress the effect on the narrator) or just "around the pond rays of sunlight penetrate the tops of the trees" (showing, if you want to stress the scene).
     

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