1. DeviouSquirrel
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    DeviouSquirrel Member

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    YA Writing and 'show' vs 'tell'.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by DeviouSquirrel, Feb 28, 2014.

    (On second thoughts this may be better under General Writing, feel free to move it if it does...)

    So I searched for an answer to this but I couldn't find one.

    I've recently started a YA novel, and I'm struggling to balance my beliefs about good writing practise (i.e. show versus tell) and the thread about 'unpacking sentences' too, in relation to writing it the way that feels right for the story.

    Basically, it's sort of written with the MC (in first person) talking as though it's all her thoughts. (Which is the reason that, though I started in past tense, it really didn't work for me and I changed it to present tense.)

    Examples:
    "I hate school. Well no, I hate the boring bits of school..." (Rather than showing how much she hates it.)
    "Eddie is my best friend and he's really cool." (Rather than showing him being cool.)
    "I think about phoning mum and pretending to be sick..." etc...

    It's got a lot of 'tell' (though it's by no means a list of 'I did this and I did that' etc) because it's written as though she's talking/thinking. Is that okay? I can't work out whether I should be trying to change it all to show more, but it doesn't *feel* right to do that. It feels right to write like she would think. And 'unpacking the sentences' as Chuck Palahniuk was advising, would mean basically rewriting every single sentence almost!

    What do I do? Helps! If it's written as a character talking, is it acceptable to 'tell' a bit more? Using those (apparently) dirty words like 'I think' and 'I feel' and 'I love/hate'...

    If a wee example of a bit of writing would help I'll post one, but I'm a bit loathe to as it's in super early stages and I'll get all embarrassed. But I figure I'm best to ask this now rather than when I'm almost done and realise I need to rewrite all of it.

    Thanks guys :)

    Leah
     
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2014
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  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, remember that the show v. tell dogma should not be taken as do this always and do that never. It's about balance. And I think in the case of the kind of first person story you are describing, there is going to be plenty of tell because we think in tell. We do. You will show the told parts, of course, through the actions and the dialogue as well, but her (or his) inner thoughts are going to naturally contain a lot of what we typically think of as tell.
     
  3. DeviouSquirrel
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    DeviouSquirrel Member

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    Yeah, there's got to be balance of course. You've made me feel a lot better about it already though, because I hadn't really thought of the fact that we think in 'tell'. I mean, I was writing it that way but actually realising that it's how people think has helped make me feel a bit more secure with it. (I even thought of some stuff and was like 'Oooh! I thought in tell!' :p)

    Thank you :)
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think a character's voice like that in your examples is a great way of showing us your character. We don't know if Eddie is cool or not, we can see that later. Rather what you are showing us is what the character thinks of Eddie. So in essence, you are still showing with this kind of inner dialogue.

    I appreciate the question, it actually helped me think a bit deeper about my own character's inner dialogue.
     
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  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm starting to think the "show don't tell" rule is more harmful than not because a lot of new writers take it as gospel. One of the powerful things about telling is that it takes up less space. Instead of spending an entire paragraph showing how a character is tired, you can simply write, "She was tired." Of course, there are times when one is preferable over the other, but that's something I think comes with experience. I'm going to go against the grain here and suggest you write the first draft without worrying about showing or telling at all. Once you spend more time with your novel, you'll get a better feel for when to show and when to tell.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It help my writing tremendously when I first started.
     
  7. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Sure, some telling is fine. You might try experimenting with converting some of the telling into showing. Instead of "I hate school. Well no, I hate the boring bits of school..." maybe something like this:

    "I hate school. When Mr. Landrum starts droning on about Shakespeare, my eyelids turn to lead and my breathing gets short and shallow, like when I first wake up early in the morning. In math class, Mrs. Palmer's shrill voice goes through my eardrums like a dentist's drill. And her chalk, pecking and scratching on the blackboard like some frenzied bird, plucks my last nerve."
     
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  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my best advice:
    study the bestselling YA novels told in first/present to see how those authors made it work... compare yours to theirs, to see if its comparable in quality and readability...
     
  9. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Telling is good for wrapping up part of a scene. For example, I have a scene in my book where a family is eating dinner. Only part of the conversation is relevant to the story. I'm working on showing the important parts and telling the rest to move the story forward.
     
  10. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know if anybody else does this, but:

    When I use different POV characters for different chapters, I Show one character's information when I want to Show that she is very analytical, but I Tell another character's conclusions when I want to Show that he trusts his gut without knowing exactly where his hunches came from.
     
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2014
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  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I see it, you can't judge "show" versus "tell" with a single sentence. It's about the intent of the sentence. That's wmy my preferred variant of the saying "show, don't tell" is "demonstrate, don't pontificate." To demonstrate, you give the reader the facts they need to come to the conclusion that you want to communicate. Sometimes those facts look like "tell"ing, but depending on why they're there, they may well be demonstrating. Often, the same sentence could have either nature, depending on why it's there.

    Let's take the line:

    "Eddie is my best friend and he's really cool."

    Is this intended to communicate that Eddie is her best friend and he's really cool? It's OK if it is; you don't have to "demonstrate" absolutely everything. But it could be intended to demonstrate other things:

    - It already demonstrates a certain amount of "kid" thinking, and if we hadn't been told that the narrator was a preteen or teen, this would demonstrate it. Or if we do know that the narrator is an adult, it demonstrates that they have at least one attribute of the way that a younger person looks at society.

    - This statement plus Eddie's behavior elsewhere in the book could demonstrate what the narrator thinks is cool behavior. Maybe Eddie acts like a nice guy. Maybe he acts like a jerk but she excuses or even admires that.

    - This statement plus other events and statements elsewhere in the book could demonstrate the fact that the narrator is in love with Eddie but that she's denying that by insisting on "friend" status.

    - This statement plus Eddie mostly ignoring and snubbing the narrator elsewhere in the book could demonstrate that the narrator is a little self-delusional, because it becomes obvious that Eddie is not her friend.

    - This statement shortly followed by Eddie being rude to her, and her being late to class, and her stepping in a puddle in her new shoes, and the cafeteria being out of everything but Vegetable Surprise, could demonstrate that she's having a bad day.
     
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