1. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yet another show versus tell thread.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by garmar69, Jan 1, 2009.

    Another thread got me to thinking about show versus tell. The OP asked about how to strengthen this sentence in relation to it being passive:

    I hope you don't mind me quoting you, if so let me know. :)

    I suggested showing this as an action rather than telling how his character felt, basically not answering his question and going off topic. Sorry man. :redface:

    But he got very good answers to his question so to keep from going off topic further and saying "Hi Jack!" I thought I would continue my view on the sentence here.

    I suggested:

    Any thoughts or suggestions? I tend to be action oriented in my stories and avoid telling when at all possible. But Cogito and Etan Isar's points really clicked with me and I feel that I could improve my writing by extending myself more.

    When I describe anything, I tend to do it as an action and I realize this isn't always the best way to do it.
     
  2. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I would say this:

    Originally Posted by garmar69
    How about showing an action to indicate his weariness? Like maybe he slumps down in a chair, or against a tree. Something like this would be better shown than told imo.

    I don't know what led up to this scene, or where Bob is and why he is exhausted, but maybe this would be of help...as an example that is.

    The adrenaline charged minutes of the chase caught up with Bob as he slid to the ground, his chest heaving.

    It makes for a longer sentence but it is one that I would rather see.

    Not to say that using the passive voice is bad. In the example you used I have no problem with it other than it is telling rather than showing.


    Sliding to the ground, his chest heaving, Bob felt the rigors of the chase catching up to him.
     
  3. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Then if it was a fight scene, you would break up the wording more like this:

    His chest heaved as he slid the ground. The chase had exhausted him, his adrenaline leaving him.
     
  4. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I know it was probably unintended, but I had quite a laugh when discovering that the "chase" had "caught up to" Bob. Reminds me of the good old Tom Swifty: "'I'd like a hotdog,' he said with relish." Or something like that, whatever. Anyway, onto the main point:

    The "show don't tell" cliche can get a lot of beginners in trouble. It's actually taken far too seriously. There are plenty of times when "telling"--by which people generally mean stating the facts baldly--is far more effective than showing, especially in a fast-paced action sequence. "Showing" generally refers to the pratice of using story details derived from the five senses as opposed to the authors statements to get something across to the reader.

    "Show-don't-Tell" applies only in a few limited situations, mostly in regards to using generic adjectives and adverbs. "The castle was beautiful." Thanks Mr. Author; I can really visualize it now. "Jack was very angry." Uh-huh... gotcha. Now, as for action: "Th man snuck into the house and scooped the gold off the table" is not necessrily a useless description. But you could also get along perfectly well with a description of him picking locks or busting windows, or dodging guards. Describing a characters actions is, by definition, telling--and showing, too, while we're at it. "Bob hit Zack." I'm telling you exactly what happened, but since I'm using the first sense: sight, I'm showing you as well.


    Depending on the story at that time: the pace, the tempo, the importance of the event, etc, you could probably find a proper use for either method. Sometimes detail is necessary, sometimes not. With a sex scene, for instance, you may not want to bore the reader with minute detail. It may be enough to note the event occurred, and let it go at that. Or a great speech. Not every author is a Cicero or a Shakesepeare. You have to make the best choice considering all the factors involved.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's interesting. There's a widespread perception that showing requires more words than telling, but my sense is that often it's the other way around. By eliminating stete descriptions and going straight to the consequential action, you often end up with fewer words.

    When you leave out the comments about state and let the reader infer them from the results, you reduce the word count, involve the reader more, and respect his or her intelligence and imagination more.
     
  6. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    You make a good point there, Cog. Showing can be every bit as compact as telling, or in many cases moreso. On the other hand, one's personal distinction between the two can have a great impact on their opinion of the matter.


    It also depends on the writer's skill. The context of a sentence often has a lot more to do with how informative and compact it can be than the contents of the sentence itself. In my example: "Bob hit Zack." there could be any number of motivations or emotions involved, and it's up to the rest of the text to inform the reader as to which is correct.

    One should also consider surface motivations vs. deep motivations, especially depending on the pov and what you want the reader to get out of an exchange. Issues of "state" often ignore motivation, and instead focus on emotion. It can be much more effective to show emotion, but things like motivation can often be handled by telling. That's mainly because emotion is something that can easily be seen. So of course it would be effective and easier to show it.

    Another common example of "state" is encountered when describing the setting. "The town was dirty." As opposed to "The choking smog and hot ash lacerated Michael's lungs. He could hear the squelching mire beneath his feet as he sank up to his ankles. A rotting corpse tangled about his leg and forced him face-down into the grime."

    However, one has to wonder how much of a story is centered around issues of state, no matter what it's important might be to the prose.

    But many people try to apply "show-don't-tell" to a wider range of issues, and that's where they run into trouble. There's a great discussion that gives an example of that on OSC website.
     
  7. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know the proper way to go about asking, so I'll just be straight with you. Would you two mind looking at one of my stories and commenting? I've gotten some mixed reviews about it and don't know what direction to go.

    I would surely appreciate it if one or both of you have the time and are willing. :)

    Link: http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=16675
     
  8. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    The usual method is PM, but I'll give it a look when I have some time.
     
  9. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you. I've been beating my head against the wall recently with my writing because I'm so new to this. I haven't even started anything new because I haven't fixed the loose ends on my old stuff.

    Thanks for the comments guys, it helps!
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    In relation to using passive, I also like using it more than my Word grammer check, and we frequently have disputes on this point. To me, sometimes the passive voice has a nuance that is lacking in active cases.

    But in the exampe you gave (sorry if this is being dealt with somewhere else), the meaning isn't clear. The definition of 'siphon' (v) is 'to MOVE a liquid from one container to ANOTHER', so:

    'The adrenaline had long since siphoned from the Bob's body leaving him feeling weary.'

    is just plain nonsensical--how does it siphon itself? and into what?

    I think the word sought for is 'drained', which works just as well in active or passive.
     
  11. Mr Vampyre
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    Mr Vampyre Member

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    Not at all. Knock yourself out.

    I'll explain what Bob has been doing. I'll keep it simple though.

    Bob is a policeman who has been called to a large, industrial fire. Ch 3. opens with the adrenaline line. It takes place many hours after Ch. 2 (which is the Ch. which goes into detail about the fire, though it is told from a different POV). The fire has been defeated and Bob is now tired.
     
  12. Mr Vampyre
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    Mr Vampyre Member

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    One of the things I think I could do, to show and not tell is have Bob do something like:

    'Bob puffed out his cheeks wearily, his body long since drained of adrenaline'

    Does that work better?
     
  13. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    That looks better, but the 'wearily' isn't necessary, I'd say.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, that is nonsensical, mad... i'm surprised no one else noticed that...

    also, what is that "the" doing in front of "Bob's"?...

    actually, 'to siphon' only means 'to take a liquid out' of its container via a tube of some sort... where you let it go from there could be on the ground, just as well as into another container...

    and i don't see how 'drained' could work, since that means it goes out and one's adrenaline doesn't go out of one's body, when one calms down, it merely is no longer being produced by the adrenal gland...

    then, there's this 'improved' version:

    'adrenaline-charged' must have its hyphen in place to make any sense... and 'as' doesn't work in this context as well as 'and' would...
     
  15. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suspect you're not very enamored with the revision I suggested--to tell the truth neither am I. I just couldn't think of a better way to phrase it at the time.

    Would a better way to write it be:

    Bob slid to the ground, his chest heaving from the adrenaline-charged chase.

    Then letting the reader deduce that he is exhausted because of the inherent drop in energy that comes after?

    Or perhaps completely re-wording it? Thanks maia.
     
  16. Mr Vampyre
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    Mr Vampyre Member

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    What's nonsensical and mad? The sentence?
     
  17. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    "mad" is an abreviated reference to the poster "madhoca".

    You said Bob is a policeman, the fire is now out and Bob is exhausted after his adrenaline supported efforts of the past few hours. Perhaps expanding to two sentences would better illustrate your point

    I would reword your sentence to something like this:

    "Bob leaned against his squad car. His trembling knees threatened to buckle after hours of adrenaline fueled exertion."

    This description clearly "shows" how exhausted your MC is after the fire. It borrows on common adrenaline after-effects that many readers have experienced and can understand.
     
  18. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    Bob pressed his back against the squad car and gasped for breath. Adrenaline gone the pain in his chest seized him and his legs shook.

    Just want to know how this sounds as a sentence. Does this follow the idea of showing not telling? Would this be a sentence anyone here would want to read?
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    mr.v...
    what's nonsensical is that 'the' stuck in there... as well as the misuse of 'siphon'... and yes, 'mad' was my nickname for the poster madhoca...

    yes, much better, gar...

    ...exactly... a perfect example of the 'less is more' axiom that all writers should follow...
     
  20. Mr Vampyre
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    Mr Vampyre Member

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    Oh that. That came about when I pasted the sentence twice by accident. I must have left 'the' in when I deleted the second sentence. Give me some credit, I'm not that bad!

    Siphoned I'll conceed to you on. If I were to keep the sentence I might put up a bit of a defense for drained or ask what word you would consider a suitable alternative, but since it's gone to the graveyard it's a bit of a moot point.

    I explained to the OP how interesting I have found this thread because sometimes you need your own work looked into in order to open your eyes to something you already "know".

    The sentence itself has actually been scrapped totally--partially because of show vs tell, but there were other creative and logical reasons involved, but this thread has proved very useful. In fact, I think I learned more from this thread on the subject of show vs tell than I have via any other method. I'm glad I decided to post a topic in the grammar forum and that the OP decided to make a topic about it on this forum.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that's really what this site is all about, isn't it, v?... it's good that you point out how something like this can 'grow' into more than it was intended to be, helping folks in various ways, along the way...

    hugs, m
     
  22. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Always listen to your mom!

    Because she is sage, and wise beyond her years!
     
  23. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I too have come to realize. I've put my foot in my mouth a couple of times... but I'm a listening now maia.

    One of the drawbacks of inexperience is that you tend to argue with those that know better. But I'm getting wiser. ;)
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    aw, shucks, kids! :redface:

    [psst: checks're in the mail]
     

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