1. Luxri

    Luxri Member

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    Show don't tell

    Discussion in 'Editing' started by Luxri, Jul 24, 2019.

    I am writing on my novel and I have been given some feedback from one of my beta readers. She suggests I try to make the readers feel more like they are more in the moment with my characters. So she suggested I would use 'show don't tell' a bit more. I know the basics when it comes to 'show don't tell', but I have always struggled with expressing emotion. Does anyone know of a way to get better at descriptive writing? Both when it comes to emotions but also surroundings. If anyone knows a good way I would appreciate it.
     
  2. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    First up don't show everything - telling is fine, but you need to show the important things.

    that aside think about how we communicate emotions through our behavior, if i was angry right now how would i behave?

    "Show don't fucking tell" Moose thundered slamming his hand on the table, "not a-bloody-gain". The other mods looked at him and shook their heads. "Don't shake your heads at me arseholes"

    Or suppose I found the idea of show don't tell upsetting.

    "Show... dont.." Moose shook his head, scuffed at his red eyes. " I just don't.." Head in his hands he gave a strangled sob.."I can't do this"

    Or may be its the sexiest thing I've ever heard

    "Show don't tell baby" Moose looked her up and down licking his lips "you know what that's about." The member nodded, biting her lip. It was the fluffy antlers she thought, they got her every time

    (yeah yeah I know they're over written)
     
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  3. thiefacrobat286

    thiefacrobat286 Member

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    It's fine to break the rules, especially this one. That said, for pivotal moments showing is probably more applicable. If you're going over cursory details and kind of just wanna get a list of things out of the way before proceeding to more important scenes, telling is a little bit more effective for those sort of "thumbnail sketches," techniques.
     
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  4. LazyBear

    LazyBear Banned

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    If you show a major event, don't cut it up into so many details that the reader don't get the hints. Showing is just for setting the pace and increasing immersion so that it doesn't feel like an abstract summary of the whole book.

    Simply stating "There was a car crash" is too abstract, but if you only describe the flying glass and people's reaction to a car crash, the reader won't get what happened until the immersion is gone.

    My method: Let a block of text begin with a key event that must be remembered even when skim reading, continue with detailed descriptions from different senses and finish with a conclusion or summary by the narrator to describe the impact and importance for readers who struggle to follow. Avoid using the "I" word too much by writing "A chilling sound echoed..." rather than "I heard a chilling sound echoing...". Use active tense for fast actions and passive tense to express boredom.
     
  5. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Banned Contributor

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    1. Watch real life.

    2. Watch movies & tv-series.

    If you are aware of situations, happenings & other stuff, it's easier to show or tell it.

    About emotions... I's good to understand what emotions are and how those differ from feelings.
     
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  6. Luxri

    Luxri Member

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    While that is all well and good that really isn't what I meant. Conjuring up images in my head is not difficult, but finding words for them are. I can easily see my scene in front of me, but I always struggle with finding words to describe the surroundings and objects within it.
     
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  7. aModernHeathen

    aModernHeathen Banned

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    What do you guys do when you realize you've been telling, and not showing, for the past three or four pages? Do you go back and edit? Or do you move forward and try to avoid the amateurish mistake from here on out? Or, does it depend on how egregiously you've been "telling?"

    What do you guys think?
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    “Show don’t tell” is shitty advice, in my opinion—at least if given in a vacuum. I don’t do much of anything about it unless I go back and decide that the telling doesn’t work for some reason, and then I’d change it. Similarly, if I decide something is better off told than shown, then I’ll switch to telling.
     
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  9. aModernHeathen

    aModernHeathen Banned

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    Interesting take. Sometimes, I think telling is all we can, or should, do. Showing, at a certain point, seems to become a masturbatory exercise in seeing how wordy and descriptive you can make a certain passage, no?

    Sometimes, it's as simple as:

    I walked around the back side of the building so they wouldn't see me go in.

    And doesn't need to be:

    As the shadows from the lamp posts laid across the parking lot, a two-story building made of old, brown brick blocked their view of my entry point.

    I have to ask, at what point is this description necessary? Do I need to create a mood for the parking lot if the scene is going to take place, mainly, inside the apartment? Some might argue yes.

    I suppose I'm not sure.
     
  10. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Supporter Reviewer Contributor

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    I agree with Steerpike. This "rule" is more of a general guideline that's taught to newer writers, but it can definitely be ignored depending on the situation. Sometimes it's better to simply tell the reader what's going on with one sentence rather than ramble on for multiple sentences. It really depends on context, and learning what techniques to use or what guidelines to deviate from comes with time and experience.
     
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  11. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    It's the most frequently rehashed disagreement on the forum. Some people use "show, don't tell" as their go-to advice every time they detect a bit of exposition or any action-free progression, having no idea, apparently, that you can't write a book without "telling." In fact, it's so overused that others on the forum, exhausted by amateur advice and the inevitable ensuing debate, immediately dismiss it as terrible advice in any situation. You can't follow either blindly.

    An example of good "telling" I've used here before is "We ate quickly and packed our bags. By nine, we were back on the road." Unless you have an important conversation that needs to take place here or some other bit of character or plot development, "telling" is more than fine. We don't necessarily need a sensory-emersion rundown of breakfast and packing. We just want the characters to get on with the story.

    If you're skipping through events we as readers would like to see, by all means, rewrite it and "show" us the scenes. If, on the other hand, you just need to get to the next scene, and there's nothing to show here, then "tell" us and move on. Three or four pages seems like a lot of exposition without any play-by-play though, and if it bothered you enough to ask, you should probably follow that instinct.

    As to whether to fix it now or later, that's all up to your personal writing style. Do you push through to the end on your first draft and fix things in edit so as not to lose momentum now, or do you correct as you go, so problems don't loom? Both are valid methods suited to different writers. The bottom-line question may be: How bothersome or distracting do you find it at this moment?
     
  12. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    Could you tell us a bit more about the pages in question? There are different ways of telling, and they're not all bad. The reason it has a bad rep is when it comes across as jarring--when it's an Ayn Rand style lecture direct from author to reader that barely makes the pretence of being in character, or when characters are inexplicably repeating something that everyone in the scene is already fully aware of ("As you know.....")

    Showing is generally better because it gets information across without disrupting the flow of the story or making people break character, and allows the telling of the information to also set the mood or add detail to a character. But telling can work when it's better to just spit out the information as quickly as possible and get on with the story. And either way is better than not telling (or showing too subtly) and leaving the readers with no clue what's just happened.
     
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  13. aModernHeathen

    aModernHeathen Banned

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    No specific pages in mind; I am simply recalling times when I did this to myself, had to do a heavy-handed facepalm and go back and edit two, three, four or five pages where I was just skimming over important details and mood-setting moments.

    Thanks to everyone for the feedback!
     
  14. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    See, I have to say I think your second example here is much better than the first.
     
  15. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Another thing to think about is what kind of writing you're doing. I'm assuming we're talking about fiction. If you look at a lot of newspaper stories they're pretty much all tell. The Hartford Courant (which I believe to the oldest newspaper in America) was sort of known as the first to really dive into narrative journalism. It's a different approach to many news stories, but by "showing" it adds a layer of depth. It brings the reader in closer.

    I can't imagine writing pages of just telling, especially for fiction or any kind of creative writing. We're writers, not just storytellers. And obviously if this hits you as something wrong, most likely something is wrong. I like to fix problems like this when I become aware of them. Eventually, we have to go back a fix problems anyway, but I find it's easier to continue writing without the weight of knowing there is a problem I will eventually have to deal with.
     
  16. aModernHeathen

    aModernHeathen Banned

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    Well, it depends on the context, doesn't it? If there is some need to describe the parking lot, to set the scene or create a certain mood, even for the next scene, then sure. But if all the action is going to take place inside the apartment, it may just be better to get to the point and show what's happening inside the apartment.
     
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  17. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    It is but four pages of pure telling is indicative of an info dump - personally I'd just press on and finish the story and clean stuff like that up on the first self edit - but everyone's process is different
     
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  18. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Then why are you even in the parking lot? If you are going to write something and include it in your story, I would put some depth and substance to it. That is if it needs to be there at all. Even without context the second sentence reads better, I think.
     
  19. aModernHeathen

    aModernHeathen Banned

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    I was only using an arbitrary example, but one doesn't teleport from the car to inside of the apartment, do they?
     
  20. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    no but you don't need to describe every step - example if i close chapter one with someone angrily leaving his apartment car keys in hand, and open the next one with him knocking back shots at the local bar the reader understands how he got from a to b without me having to describe it.

    on the other hand if a central tenet of the story is a hit and run that happened on his way to the bar, i better give some indication that that happened
     
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  21. aModernHeathen

    aModernHeathen Banned

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    I agree, but I'm not suggesting you have to provide every single detail. After all, we're not after logical efficiency, are we? There's no real harm in describing someone walking from the car to the apartment building, so long as this doesn't turn into a habit where one is constantly describing needless details about pointless situations.

    I agree that we should try to cut the fat where we see it, though.
     
  22. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I'm not saying you shouldn't just that you don't have to.
     
  23. aModernHeathen

    aModernHeathen Banned

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    So rather than show versus tell, sometimes you can just omit a useless piece of the story altogether?

    I hear what you're saying!
     
  24. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    yeah omit all the useless stuff - sumarise the less important by telling, and show the important stuff (by important i mean that which drives the plot or develops the character)

    AND DON'T GET TOO HUNG UP ON SHOW DON'T TELL - AT THE END OF THE DAY ALL WRITING IS TELLING ANYWAY.

    EDIt arrgh capslock hell - CBA to retype it
     
  25. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Telling is a very useful tool to bridge gaps between scenes, locations, breaks in time, etc. Don't be afraid to use it. If the reader needs to know the character left the building and drove to the bar, then say so. One sentence isn't an info-dump. It's necessary information. If one minute the character is at home watching TV and the next minute they're in a bar, this might be a bit startling to the reader if you haven't 'told' them what the transition was. If applied lightly, and with purpose, 'telling' is invisible and moves the story along.

    My concern comes when a story seems to be going by too fast with no immersion on the part of the reader. It's just facts facts facts, as if we were reading a newspaper story. He is 6 feet tall, with blonde hair and blue eyes and he did this, then did that, and then this, and then this happened, that happened, the end.

    New writers can fall into this trap because they are so focused on the plot that they forget story is a lot more than just spitting out the plot. Readers need to feel what the characters feel and experience (not just learn about) what the characters are going through. It's part of a writer's skill set to know what parts of the experience need to be shared by the readers via 'showing', and which parts can just be skipped over with 'telling.'
     
    Last edited: Sep 7, 2019
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