1. canadianmint
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    canadianmint Member

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    Showing vs. Telling. How times have changed.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by canadianmint, Aug 25, 2009.

    I watched a TV movie from 1985 (on VHS) the other day and although I loved the movie as a kid, I found it hard to stomach all the 'telling' it was doing instead of 'showing.'

    What is your take on the change from telling to showing? Because I swear in the books/movies I loved growing up and they just told me everything.

    And what are the limitations to showing? What do readers lose in being shown so much and not just being plainly told?

    Has our attention span changed? Is it because we have so much more choices when it comes to books and movies?

    Don't get me wrong, I definitely know the strengths to 'showing' and am not opting to go back to 'telling'. I just want to look at it from the other side.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I believe in a balance between showing and telling, and paying attention to when one is a better choice then the other: Show and Tell

    One problem with TV, and especially movies, is that the time for exposition is limited. Too often, exposition is therefore compressed into a few lines of dialogue. Sometimes it's expediency or budget that dictates the difference too. It's easier and less costly to have an actor say a few lines within an existing scene than to construct an additional scene or two (with set preparation) to show the same information.

    That's not as convincing an excuse if you're discussing a text medium.
     
  3. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    What do you think about showing AND telling?

    He twiddled his thumbs/shuffled his feet. vs. He twiddled his thumbs nervously/awkwardly. <--- I do a lot of this and it concerns me a little...
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    ^ Honestly, its not that big of a deal. Readers aren't going to go "ooh, she used an emotion, lazy lazy writer". The problem only arises when you do all the work for the reader, giving them everything all the time. Showing, in this sense, makes your reader do some work themselves, asking them to think about why a character is doing a certain thing, how an object became a certain way, things like that. Which, obviously, isn't always preferable - sometimes the subtext leaves a little too much room for interpretation, or the emotion/idea you're trying to communicate is so vital to the story that it needs to be stated definitively, in which case the better idea is to tell readers exactly what you want/need to.
     
  5. Ashleigh
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    Ashleigh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Adverbs can be very lazy words to use in that context. I don't see a problem with them if they're used sparcely, but over use of them can just seem clumsy, childish, and unprofessional, purely because they're quick and easy choices - they don't require much tact.

    It can actually come across as being patronising to the reader, if you ask me.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    one movie does not a standard make!... and was it a good, well-written/directed movie, or a piece of 'blank'?
     
  7. canadianmint
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    canadianmint Member

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    Oh the movie I watched was most likely a cheap budget film, poorly written.

    But as a child I didn't notice and ate up every word.

    I guess, when you are 11 years old, telling is a bit more relevant because you aren't quite thinking for yourself yet and sometimes ambiguous concepts need to be explained.

    Then it makes me wonder, would fiction written for people under 12 years old have more telling than showing?
     
  8. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nope. You still need both, just in a different way.
     
  9. Snap
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    Agreed. There's no way you can tell a story by JUST telling, or JUST showing. You have to do a little of both, or the story becomes flat and boring. That being said, I do notice more showing than telling in modern times, perhaps because of the trend society has taken with TV/technology, and not wanting to wait for anything. Everything has to be instantaneous, and we have to be constantly entertained. I think this might be why, in some cases, authors tend to show TOO much, throwing more and more action to try and keep readers engaged, and thereby taking away from the story itself.

    Some of the older authors that come to mind that have significantly less showing are JRR Tolkien, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens. Part of me thinks their kind of writing would not be tolerated, if it were written today.
     
  10. seta
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    seta Contributing Member

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    For me it depends on what exactly I want to convey in a particular paragraph.

    "He rolled his eyes and huffed a sigh." - Obviously conveys irritation or exasperation

    "'blah blah blah' he said in an irritated tone."

    Or maybe I don't understand the difference yet... :)
     
  11. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    For some reason writers of things for children (the early readers and independent readers -- not as much for YA) tend to like to tell rather than show, or do more telling than showing.

    While some telling is necessary here and there, the books I find the best to read out loud to my kids at bedtime are the ones with more showing.

    I'm reading a book called Magyc to my kids at bedtime right now. While it's not difficult to read, I find myself leaving out useless dialog tags and sometimes even rewording stuff that is awkward to read aloud. I find myself getting bored with paragraphs of telling and sometimes shorten them up.

    I'm not sure what the mindset is for writers of children's material (books, movies, or tv.) I don't know why they feel it necessary to tell things rather than show them, but it is annoying to read.
     
  12. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    An example of lots of telling: Anime. Because of all the dialogue to fill time slots.

    And anime is great.
     
  13. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    They had bad writers back in the '80s, too?
     

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