1. greenduckish
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    greenduckish New Member

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    Showing versus telling?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by greenduckish, Aug 17, 2012.

    I was told by my English teacher that the problem with young writers is that they 'tell' and not 'show'...

    I dont understand the difference between the two, and she didnt explain to us the difference in the two writing styles :/

    I'd love for someone to help m with this, as I have no clue the difference between them :confused:
     
  2. Crystal Parney
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    Crystal Parney Member

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    When I was school my English teacher said the same (highschool, not college). I remember her telling us students when showing, think of taking a snap shot with your words. I always remembered this when writing. Telling would be a sentence like: Ben was angry. Showing would be: Ben stalked into his room, slamming the door behind him. He threw his backpack into the corner of his room, where the dirty clothes were piled high, and plopped down onto his unmade bed. Hope this helps.

    Crystal
     
  3. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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  4. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Telling: Kate clenched her fists and got angry.

    Showing: Kate's breathing sped up, sweat droplets popping on her forehead, and she balled her fists hard enough to make both arms shake.

    Telling basically in this case was saying "clenched fists and angry." It tells you without showing anything.

    The second sentence, though wordier, shows something, an emotion that the reader can picture. Yes, new writers tend to write that way, because we're used to reports and etc in school which are telling items. However, in writing showing becomes an issue.

    With that said, there's always a mix of telling and showing in any novel or short story. The majority should be showing, but the mix pretty much depends on the story and skill of the writer.
     
  5. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Welcome to the forum. There have been more threads on this subject than you could shake a stick at. In the future, please do a search before posting to see if your topic, question, concern or issue has been discussed before. Chances are good that it has.
     
  6. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Near constant exposure to this rule of writing, and the ensuing discussions, has led me to believe that showing is just telling done in an awful, awful way. Post #4 is an example of this phenomenon.
     
  7. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Actually Jack, they are completely different. They really are. Telling is completely different animal then showing. Sorry but your wrong. Your entitled to your opinion but you're wrong.
     
  8. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    The distinction is pretty useless. All storytelling is telling, essentially. Regarding your previous example, 'clenched fists' is an image just like rapid breathing, or sweat, or whatever else. They both tell and they both show.

    But I think the rule is idiotic in general. I realize that 'anger' is an abstract word without an image, and this, essentially, is what show, don't tell points to: clarifying the abstract with imagery. The reason the rule stinks is because it encourages a lot of really awful, purple prose. Writers think because they are being good little students and showing every detail that they are creating better prose, better stories, and it's doubtful they are.

    Narrative summary (i.e., 'telling') is not a boogeyman. Not something to be afraid of or to avoid. It is a wonderful way of compressing time, providing broad brush strokes in terms of history and events.

    The real challenge in writing is not whether you can show and describe things. Anybody can do that. Everybody already does that. The real challenge for writers is in writing exposition, narrative summary--essentially telling--in an interesting, artistic, and highly crafted way.

    Nobody cares how well you can describe a house or a lake, okay. The measurement of your skill as a writer is how well you can tell me about your character's history without it sounding like a boring summary.
     
  9. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is a distinction, but I think the important thing to remember is that both can and should be used - properly. The idea is always to engage the reader, gain and keep their interest, and make them care what happens to the characters (whether they want them to succeed or fail is immaterial - they just have to care one way or the other). Too much telling is, well, too much. Same for too much showing. Too much is too much. Learning when it's too much is the key - and that can take a lot of writing.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Showing vs telling isn't a rule. It is sometimes expressed as though it is, but mostly because the majority of new writers don;t understand, and don't use, showing.

    Showing and telling are two different ways of conveying information. A painting metaphor for showing is negative space, where you show the form of something by the shape of the surroundings.

    Showing is particularly effective for presenting complex and abstract information, such as emotional state. Putting a simple name to an emotional state tends to trivialize it, but showing the outward manifestations gives the reader the impression of the emotion without limiting it by giving it a name.

    Please read Show and Tell
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think of "telling" as narrative summary. Both sentences below are narrative summary:

    Joe was depressed for days.

    Joe didn't get out of bed again until Thursday.


    But to me, the first is telling and the second is showing. The first interprets and explains the events for the reader. The second allows the reader to come to his own conclusion.

    That's why I increasingly distrust the terms showing and telling, and have started to think of the same concept as avoiding explanations, avoiding "spoonfeeding" conclusions to the reader.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    crystal...
    that was a good example of the difference... well done!
     
  13. greenduckish
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    greenduckish New Member

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    Wow, thanks for all the explainations :) I appreciate it.

    I did go and read Cogito's blog, and it was very helpful, thank you.

    Before I vaguely understood the difference between the two, but now I think you all have cleared it up. I'm going to try and insert more showing into my stories, but I really liked your phrase, ChickenFreak "avoid 'spoonfeeding' conclusions to the reader." I think I do that way that way too often :/

    Again, thank you all ^^
     
  14. bsbvermont
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    bsbvermont Active Member

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    As with everything, I think the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle...I prefer a nice mix of all of them. Please don't show me everything because you're novel is probably going to be way too long for my schedule. Please don't tell me everything, because I do like to savor some of the details before hitting the pillow. Please don't totally spoon feed me (unless I'm twelve), but don't make guess everything unless I'm reading a mystery. Give me an occasional info dump embedded in some aspect of the novel so I feel wiser in the end...but pepper lightly with fluff sometimes because I'm reading for some element of escape. And have a good story...Oh yeah, that's important! That covers the perfect novel for me.
     
  15. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Everything's in the middle in writing. There's always a mix of telling and showing, and it's up to the author himself or herself to know what is the proper mix.
     
  16. prisonchild
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    prisonchild Member

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    my personal view is that 'telling' is a more demeaning way of conveying information, at least when it comes to creative writing and novels.

    it puts the author too far above the reader for the reader to become attached to the writing.

    i say telling is for textbooks and informative essays, but that's my personal view.
     
  17. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    But...but surely you can't have a novel with only show...?
     
  18. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Unfortunately, Prison, writing is a combination of showing AND telling. All novels are, to be honest. As I've said, now a hundred times, it's up to the author to determine how much the mix should be according to his/her story. Just like people talking about short sentences being better, that's not to case either. There's a lot of things that are necessary to make a good novel, and half of them require breaking the rules.

    Showing and telling is one of them. People on this site put wayyyyyyyy too much emphasis on one over the other, and it's not correct. I'm sure, in the next week or so, we'll have another thread on the subject, and there'll be another argument again.

    As a good friend of mine would say: the combination is whatever it takes to make the story work.

    *stepping off soapbox*
     
  19. prisonchild
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    prisonchild Member

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    i trying to think of somewhere in ulysses...
     
  20. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    You can't...not really possible. Even the best written classical novel still has telling in it.
     
  21. Rapscallion
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    Rapscallion Active Member

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    It's about finding a good imbalance between show and tell in order to keep things moving. There's a knack to learning where to place what.
     
  22. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Exactly, a lot of battle scenes are big mixes of showing and telling or they'd go one for pages and pages...kind of like David Weber's do...
     
  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Jack is partly right. Every declarative sentence is, strictly speaking, "telling", but that's not what the advice means. What the advice is usually about is whether you are telling something the reader will see ("showing") or not ("telling") -- the latter might be going inside a characters head, it might be telling the author's interpretation; something like that. The current fashion is for "showing" to predominate, although it is a fashion, and in the past the fashion was pretty much the opposite. And it's true that beginners tend to "tell" far more than fits in with the current fashion. But that most certainly doesn't mean that "telling" is bad, or that it should actually be avoided. If you cut "telling" out completely the result will be just as unreadable as if you tell too much. It's just that the former error hardly ever occurs in novice writers. It usually only happens when the "show, don't tell" message has been badly taught and hammered in.

    If a good teacher tells you that you are "telling" too much, what they are saying is that the text didn't engage them; it read more like a textbook than a story. Their suggestion is to move to a more descriptive style with less interpretation. The key thing is that the teacher didn't find the text engaging. If they enjoy reading the text then they will be looking for how you succeeded, not looking for defects. That's valuable feedback, and gives you a suggested way of improving.

    If a bad teacher tells you that you are "telling" too much, what they are saying is that they are unwilling to give a personal opinion and are looking for simple tick-lists that they can justify if they are challenged. That is only valuable feedback if you have the option of changing teacher.

    The way to tell the difference is that the latter will flag absolutely every instance where you write something that cannot actually be seen. The former will look at whether you choose well when to "show" and when to "tell".

    For what it's worth, in isolation "showing" can seem unduly verbose, which is another sense in which I think Jack is right. In isolation, the "showing" examples often are worse than the "telling" examples. It's only in a larger context that sustaining reader engagement starts to matter. Out of context, "showing" is just a worse way of telling!
     
  24. prisonchild
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    prisonchild Member

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    ulysses was written in the stream of consciousness style, there was very little (if any) telling.
     
  25. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    And your reaction should come if, when your first readers say that. Because one person makes that comment doesn't mean the writing style is wrong. Each person has their own opinion on writing. If several people make the comment, then you need to seriously reconsider.

    I still stand behind my original comment.
     

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