1. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Showing not telling.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by colorthemap, Mar 27, 2011.

    I was wondering how I can do this more in my writing. I posted a short story on here and have gotten that critique.

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Basically, your work reads like a history book or an article in a newspaper. Instead of telling a story, you're summarizing it.

    I've found that some of the examples already online are better than the ones I can come up with, so here's one example:

    This example comes from http://www.writing-world.com/basics/dawn02.shtml
    Another place with good examples is: http://users.wirefire.com/tritt/tip1.html

    One prase from your writing that you might start with is right at the beginning: "We were classmates, and instantly I fell in love with the girl. Just seeing her, hearing her name, gave me knots in my stomach." (This is just a convenient example at hand -- this is not meant to be a review of your peice, but rather a general discussion on the topic of showing, not telling.)

    You're telling me that your character was in love with her, and you attempt to describe this a little bit. Your description feels rather clinical though; you're not giving any details that the readers can grab on to. There's no sense of time here. Instead, you might write a scene that shows us the first time he met her. Pretend it's a live-action movie, and you're describing the aciton as it's unravelling as opposed to giving us a synopsis of the scene. And that really is what you wrote: not a story, but a synopsis. The theme sounds great, but you need to actually write a story out of it.
     
  3. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    Watch out for 'be' verbs, such as 'am', 'are', 'is', 'was', 'were', 'be', 'become' and 'became'. 'Was' is the big one.

    Bad: 'There was a single plate on the table. It's surface was covered in ornate patterns.'
    Better: 'A single plate sat on the table. Ornate patterns covered its surface.'

    Which one sounds better? Which one sounds more interesting? It's the one that doesn't use 'was'.

    You can always replace a 'to be' verb with a better verb. Use the active voice. Have action in your sentences by making sure that it's something doing something else. In the example above, the plate is sitting and the ornate patterns are covering its surface. It's not a static object that has attributes, it's a dynamic scene.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, both examples above are active voice. The word "was" is not necessarily passive voice.
     
  5. nastyjman
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    nastyjman Contributing Member

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    Also watch out for the -ly adverbs. They're also culprits for the "show don't tell" rule. Use it sparingly (wink).

    Weak: We were classmates, and instantly I fell in love with the girl.
    Strong: We were classmates. And I, in a split-second, fell in love with the girl.

    Or you can re-write anything that your heart dear wish. Sometimes we want to take a short-cut in expressing something; in turn, we create the -ly adverbs (They were happily married, but he was really unsure.). Take them out and think of a better phrase, clause or word to replace them (They smiled at each other and knew that their marriage was stable. But he was unsure.)
     
  6. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Thanks, Ion, I missed that one.

    Another thing to watch out for is adverbs. Adverbs are often used as a crutch instead of actually describing what's happening. That isn't to say they should never be used, but be judicious about them.

    "He walked tentatively towards her."
    "As he walked towards her, he could feel his heart pounding in his chest. What if she said no? Each step took conscious effort as something deep in his mind told him to give up, to run away, that this would never happen."

    Okay, my second sentence feels rather contrived (and it was very difficult for me to put myself in his shoes to write that...), but it's still much more interesting than the first one, while getting across at least the same meaning (though with more details as to why).

    Edit: two posts while I was writing this one :p
     
  7. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    Whoops. You're right. Still, you have to admit that it sounds passive, even if it's not actually passive. Passive voice is when you don't show the perpetrator of the action. I've tried to write in active voice for so long that it's difficult to go back to my old habits.

    Adverbs are often used in place of using better verbs.

    "He walked tentatively towards her."

    'Walk' is a mundane verb. It describes a general unspecific action. The adverb 'tentatively' is necessary to tack on additional specificity and nuance.

    In general, use specific, powerful verbs instead of adverbs. Adverbs are like salt. Your story will be unpalatable if you use too many of them, but they do add flavor in correct doses.

    "He edged towards her."

    The modifying adverb 'tentatively' is no longer necessary to communicate the tentativeness of the walk if the verb 'walk' is replaced with a more specific, powerful verb.
     
  8. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Concentrate on writing in real-time scenes. If you're doing it right you won't have to worry about whether you're showing or telling, as you'll simply be depicting the scene as needed to create real, accurate moments, and your writing will be stronger for it.

    For help with writing in scenes, I recommend The Scene Book. It's actually one of the only fiction-writing books I recommend, and soon you'll find you're doing more important things in your writing than worrying about defining terms and techniques like show and tell.
     
  9. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Hmm... yeah, I guess I completely missed the opporunity to change my verb there.

    I guess my example was more of a general showing not telling example than specifically for adverbs, or at least that I missed the simplest way of fixing an adverb-riddled passage.
     
  10. Ion
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    Ion Senior Member

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    Using specific verbs is a part of showing. I want to know what he did, not a description of what he did.
     
  11. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    Let the character(s) tell the story.

    Think of it this way. You go to a movie that has some level of narration; say 'Shawshank Redemption'. Morgan Freeman narrated part of the movie. However, the majority of the movie is acted, not narrated. Imagine if you will, no acting, just narrating. Not a good movie.

    That's the point, when you tell the story, you are not letting the character, dialogue and actions do that for you. In telling, you are giving a description. Explaining things. Showing is letting the story, the action and words move that forward for you.

    When I looked for dialogue. I saw virtually none. Example is a point where you say "I whispered her name, and she whispered mine." Why would you take that opportunity to actually have dialogue. You told is the characters had dialogue. Wouldn't actually having dialogue be more effective?

    Let the characters do the work for you and get out of the narrator mindset.
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is just an example - describe the day she met and the day she left:
    My heart pounds and my stomach is turning in knots as I remember the moment we met at school. Her golden hair and beautiful bright blue eyes spoke to me and i was hooked. For the next three years I tried to summon up the courage to tell her my feelings but failed. My heart was wrenched from me when we were fourteen and I watched her golden carriage with its white horses ride out of our walled community.
     
  13. colorthemap
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    colorthemap Contributing Member

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    Interesting, thanks for all the help. I am planning on re-writing it and working on everything recommended. I really do like the idea.
     

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