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  1. MythicMirror

    MythicMirror New Member

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    Senses in show don't tell

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MythicMirror, Apr 26, 2019.

    Well… It’s no secret that Show don’t Tell includes senses. And describing what the character sees is easy. But how about tasting, hearing, smelling and touching? I mean, these cases are often telling like “The sandwich was tasty on his tongue.” or “The silk felt like water, which flowed through the hand.”. — Do you understand what I mean? I don’t often describe the environment of the character; just what he/she sees. Any tips for me?
     
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  2. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Technically, you're just describing stuff. No problem with that.

    However, 'showing' in the first instance would be more like :
    This way, you're showing us that he's enjoying his sandwich. We will figure out that it's tasty on his tongue. 'Showing' basically lets the readers make up their own minds about what's happening. That makes for a more personal and immersive experience for the readers.

    There is nothing wrong with 'telling,' by the way. It certainly has its uses. It tends to condense events and impressions, which is sometimes exactly what you want. It prevents you from going through an entire story in real time. Telling bridges that gap between experiencing an event and simply learning about it. The usual rule of thumb is to show the scenes or events that are important for the reader to experience, but use telling to bridge the gap between those scenes.

    As far as your second example goes, you are 'showing.' You are showing us that he loves the feeling of the silk—assuming that silk which feels as smooth as the flow of water is a good thing. We will guess that he's enjoying this experience, from what you've shown us. 'Telling,' in this instance, would be more like:
     
  3. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    A lot of the time, show / don’t tell in pop literary critique is accomplished by expressing subjective sensory perceptions as if they were intrinsic parts of the environment.

    Telling sentence with filtering words: He stepped into the rain. It felt cold on his skin.

    “Showing” sentence: Cold rain beaded on his bare arms.

    Some people will even tell you that “his” is a telling, filtering word and that the sentence is improved without it:

    Cold rain beaded on bare arms.

    The showing style can be tedious because you can get into this thing where you have to make every sentence an action with a new actor bearing intrinsic properties in order to avoid accusations of telling, filtering, and passive voice. People will tell you that your focus is jumping around too much. lol
     
  4. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Put another way: lunch meat doesn’t “taste salty.” It is salty.

    He tasted the meat. It was salty.

    He tasted the salty meat.

    He ate the salty meat.

    The salty meat found itself chewed by his teeth.

    Teeth chewed salty meat. <—- Perfect sentence no one can find fault with ;)
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2019
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  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I can. :)

    (To clarify—I can find fault with letting a bunch of silly rules tie your prose into knots.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2019
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    There's some good advice, above. I just want to point out that there is nothing inherently wrong with telling. Don't assume you have to show if telling is a better choice.
     
  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I also don’t agree that show/tell is about sensory input. I would rephrase “show, don’t tell” as “When something is important (or kinda important, or at least interesting), find a way to demonstrate it, rather than just explaining it.”
     
  8. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I actually try to avoid disconnected body parts taking actions. "His brain thought, his leg kicked." I don't mind it terribly to read it, but they annoy me in my own writing. But to bring it up in the above post, I'd have to keep the rules piling on and it would never stop.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think the telling/showing thing can get confusing because 'telling,' when it comes to stories, can mean several different things. For example, you 'tell' a story. That's not the same kind of telling as the tell/show thing at all.

    If you 'show' something, you are allowing the reader to make up his or her own mind about what it means. If you 'tell' something, you are imposing your authorial will on the situation.

    If you write 'he sat down and burst into tears,' that isn't 'telling.' You show the guy bursting into tears, and your reader has to figure out why the guy is crying. (They will need context for this—maybe a scene where the guy finds his elderly dog lying dead on the front doormat—which is why 'showing' usually takes up more story space and uses more words. However, it's usually more vivid and immersive as well. If the reader has come to be fond of the dog as a character, and knows how much the guy loves that dog, this will be a very moving scene.)

    What would be telling is if you wrote, 'he was overcome by grief because his dog was dead, so he sat down and cried.' No work for the reader to do here. You've just 'told' the reader what to think in a very economical way. However, while the reader has learned something—the dog has died and the guy feels bad about it—they probably don't feel very much themselves. They will just move quickly on to the next event.

    There is a place in good writing for both telling and showing.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2019
  10. LoaDyron

    LoaDyron Contributor Contributor

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    Hello, friend. :superhello:

    Well, tell is more like when you want to say a piece of information about something to the reader, something that doesn't require to feel. For example, your MC is an investigation about a serial killer. You don't need to describe to us how your MC is feeling about the information. Instead, you want to tell us readers about the criminal and his/her criminal record.
    Showing is more about describing in great detail (at least for me because I am a detail maniac :supertongue:) about what your MC is feeling. Your example: "The sandwich was tasty on his tongue.” tells us more. Tells us what the sandwich was made of? Ingredients? Does it have sauce? If so, which one? When you are describing something, you have to put some comparison, something that can make your MC remember something. And that already is a clue for us (readers) about your MC's personality.

    I hope this helps. Keep on good work and have fun. :superagree:
     
  11. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Masticating the brine marinated flesh. (Improved perfect sentience). :p

    Showing doesn't always have to be direct, though with somethings
    you kinda have to be a little bit. It takes some practice, along with
    the appropriate choice of adjectives and/or verbs (without going
    overboard with the flowery/purple language). Play around with the
    way you describe things, and see how that works out for ya. :)
     
  12. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    May I just say, I love the sentence, "The sandwich was tasty on his tongue." :D It's fabulous!

    Anyway, show don't tell eh. Well, what makes it tasty?

    It was a perfect blend of salty and sweet. The mayo lent it a creamy texture that... I dunno, made things easy to eat. The cold lettuce gave him frostbite.

    I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm in a really jokey mood... :cry::supertongue:

    Anyway I actually adore describing food. The trick isn't to describe the flavour - most of us knows what good chicken should taste like, and I always say, your descriptions will never beat what the reader imagines for himself.

    As an example, this is something I wrote in my WIP:

    I don't bother to describe flavours, if you notice. You can easily imagine how this dish might have looked, and just like looking at a good picture of food, you know it is delicious. You can imagine it without me describing the flavours or textures, because I've given you a good photo.

    However, if you don't wanna describe the food, then describe the person's reaction. The sandwich was tasty - what do you do when something's tasty?

    You may close your eyes. You might moan. You might lick your lips, lick your fingers. You may say, "Oh my."

    It's about taking almost stereotypical reactions that the vast majority of people will interpret a certain way, and finding the best one.

    John took a bite of the BLT sandwich and let out an involuntary moan. "Oh God, I needed that."

    "Does your wife not feed you?"

    "Not with something like this." He licked his lips and popped in the last bite. "Would it be rude of me to ask for seconds?"

    Sophie laughed. "I'll get you the recipe to pass on to your wife."

    His spirits dampened, but he wasn't entirely sure why. Pulling up a smile as Sophie presented a second sandwich, he said, "That'd be great."
    I dunno, I just had fun writing that. But you see how I illustrated he really loved that sandwich without really ever describing a thing about it :)
     
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  13. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    He pressed the Texas barbecued short ribs against his face with grease running down his jaw. An eerily hum was timed with every chew and was topped off with a finish smack of the lips. The white bread served as a napkin when he said, "Oh my. Can I have another?"

    This thread is making me hungry.
     
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  14. MythicMirror

    MythicMirror New Member

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    Ok. Your tips are pretty nice. But when are the details too much? When it doesn't move the plot forward and just beat around the bush?
     
  15. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    A lady in my local group said that Steve King wrote a good 10 pages
    just on drapes. :p
    So I would say enough to make the point, but not define every bloody
    atom that makes it up.
    :superidea:(Sample from my own WIP)
    “Listen, I need you to calm down or you are going to bleed to death,” I snap at her, getting a surgical sponge from the kit along with a clotting agent. Unwrapping the sponge, I pull her red stained hand off the wound. The field dressing stuck to her hand, as I began mopping up as much blood as I can. Discarding the full sponge, I began applying the clotting agent liberally throughout the wound, causing my fingers to become sticky with a bit of grit from the coagulant. Retrieving a fresh dressing from the kit with a roll of surgical tape, I lift up her shirt and bandage the exit wound, followed by the entry at her back.

     
  16. MythicMirror

    MythicMirror New Member

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    And when I want to write Brian is angry? Is Brian’s face turned red and his eyes narrowed. He looked like a volcano, which was going to errupt.
     
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  17. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Brian's face flushed with a scowl. :superidea:
    Brian narrowed his gaze, and his face darkened.
    With slit eyes Brian glared.
    Brian turned the hue of a cherry, and one that was about to explode.

    Though yours works too. Depends on the audience
    that you are writing for.
     
  18. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Just out of interest, I just ordered this book for my Kindle. I've read the first few pages, and it seems like a good resource. She does NOT take the position that 'telling' is bad, but illustrates how it differs from 'showing,' and discusses how to use both devices. The book is only 99p on Kindle (in the UK) so it might be a good investment. I have only just started reading, but that's my first impression.

    Show, Don't Tell: How to write vivid descriptions, handle backstory, and describe your characters’ emotions (Writers’ Guide Series Book 3) Kindle Edition
    by Sandra Gerth (Author)

    .........................

    edited on 28 April: The book is short, and to the point. It's pretty good, as how-to advice goes, especially in illustrating the difference between showing and telling. It helpt a writer to spot where they're doing showing and telling in their own writing. It also is very clear that 'telling' isn't bad at all. In fact, there are times when 'showing' WOULD be bad. Telling is great for transitions in and out of scenes. It's also great for truncating past events, where information is important for the reader to know, but the reader doesn't need to experience the event first-hand.

    As an example, if three weeks have passed between one important event and another in your story, there is no need to take people through the entire three-week period in real 'showing' time. In fact, that would be a huge mistake.

    I recommend this book for anybody who isn't sure about the topic.

    One of the most interesting viewpoints she gave is the relevance of adverbs to the issue of 'telling.' I never thought about it this way before, but adverbs are nearly always in 'telling' mode. They 'tell' the reader how to interpret an action, rather than letting the depicted action speak for itself. He said, anxiously. She shouted angrily. He tumbled slowly. She withdrew fearfully.... And etc. Again, there is nothing wrong with this in itself, but if it's overused it can hamper the readers' ability to interpret action or dialogue for themselves.

    By the way, she also gives some practical advice on how to handle flashbacks.
     
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2019
  19. LoaDyron

    LoaDyron Contributor Contributor

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    That's a difficult question. I believe you will have to figure out your way by feedback.




    I hope these videos help you.
     
  20. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    - Show the reactions.
    - Show some kind of comparison.
    - Show habits.
    - Show rejections.
    - Show choosing and it's results.
    - Show sharing the experience.
    - Stay out of characters head and look & listen him/her carefully.

    Videos about nonverbal communication & facial expressions might help showing these.

    + Time frame & flow.

    Showing is often more temporal. Telling uses to widen time frame.

    Alf smelled it. He took a sip. An expression of orgastic pleasure rose to his face.
    Vs.
    Bert smelled it. He took a sip. Coffee was good.

    Showing is often tied to time more closely than telling. That builds tension.

    It's easier to write flat text if you loose tight connection to time flow.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2019
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  21. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Most new traditionally published books have a lot of telling. To take the examples above about coffee.

    Mary slammed the door, and wouldn’t be coming back. The aroma of the fresh coffee turned his head. He sipped. The single origin Arabic was too acidic for most people; it was for Mary, but Bert liked it just fine.

    That’s what is odd about show and tell. We always here “don’t tell” but I feel like it’s more a warning about giving information before it’s interesting. Modern books are full of telling, but the telling says something interesting after the showing makes you care, rather than the other way around.
     
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  22. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I don't feel that it's possible to tell whether something is "telling" with an example that's so short. For example, the bit about single origin Arabic may be demonstrating (showing) that this group of people have the time and resources to be picky about their luxuries. It might exist to contrast against the poverty of a different group of people.

    "Mary slammed the door and wouldn't becoming back" might be part of showing that Mary throws tantrums about minor things.
     
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  23. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    You could be on to something. If show vs. tell is a matter of perspective (and a lot of telling is permissible when it is engaging), how much is just taste and out of style sentences.
     
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  24. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Here's a sample from Nabokov's Lolita.
    I really like analyzing his work because he can make description part of the novel. It's never a time-out for the description it is part of the story by using very precise details he creates action leading to the building of an emotion - for the character and or reader. Find an author whose style you admire and pick apart how they do it.
    Depends on the story you're writing. There is some leniency in different genres for a slower pace or more details. Know what you're audience will go for and work from that point on. I like to read glitzy best sellers (big business trashy things like Jackie Collins) and they can feature whole paragraphs describing single outfits. That might not work in a fast paced thriller.
    My own style is more detail oriented but I can go overboard. One way I know it is when I've used three sentences to say one thing that could be summoned up in a singular sentence. Another is does this create atmosphere or distract from it?
     
  25. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Out of style sentences? Confused.
     

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