1. cutecat22

    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    Show ... Tell ... Both ...?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by cutecat22, Nov 29, 2015.

    I'm in the middle of a conversation (on-line) with fellow authors about show vs. tell.

    There are arguments for show, and arguments for tell, and then there's me, who ultimately broke it by saying, "show a little, tell a little, and write a good story ..."

    What are your thoughts on this age-old argument?
     
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  2. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    You need a balance. Show the important stuff, tell the less important stuff in order to keep the story moving.
     
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  3. Greenwood

    Greenwood Active Member

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    Both. Too much of anything is not good. I totally agree with you. When you only tell, it will lack immersion. Then again, some things just need to be told in order to progress the story.
     
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  4. cutecat22

    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    I like to show, when it's important to the characters or their moods, I like to tell when I need to move the story forward.

    I don't always stick to that formula though ...
     
  5. A.M.P.

    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Contributor

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    Show don't tell is the WORST thing about a writing community.
    Everyone touts it like it's the Golden Rule of fiction without either fully explaining/understanding it.

    You need both as you can't show everything either for logical purposes or just to keep the story pacing and what not.
    Tell has just as much place in fiction.

    It's really about finding the correct place to use either and creating the best prose/narrative you can.
     
  6. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    I find telling is best used when telescoping time or providing information that is necessary but pointless to show. It's often most useful between scenes of showing, essentially providing the transition from one to the other. But it can also be useful within scenes to get from one important bit to the next.

    It's a transitional tool, and a necessary one at that. "Don't tell" is bad advice.
     
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  7. Fitzroy Zeph

    Fitzroy Zeph Contributor Contributor

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    Most junior authors, tend to sway to the tell side. I certainly do. So the advice is always to show, but if all you ever wrote were show scenes after scene, you may never get finished. Tell are great ways to move through areas of important but not so important stuff and time.
     
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  8. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's a guideline that I think was put forth with good intent, but it's not that helpful. Sometimes telling is preferred over showing, and sometimes showing is better. It depends on a variety of things, including context and author style. Just write as you normally would, and don't worry about it too much.
     
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  9. Siena

    Siena Senior Member

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    Whatever works for the scene, makes it richer.

    There are times when it's obviously just tell, but it makes the writing richer.
     
  10. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I find that telling has become a mode of paranoia for the writer so much so that he/she will stop using certain words because they're telling. Which really muddles up their scenes as they try to slog through it with all show.

    They avoid stuff like angry, cynical, beautiful, upset because they kinda become tell words. Assuming they can't use upset because well I need to show my character is upset without using the word upset. Rather like the board game Taboo.
    Actually a lot of telling words can be used in different ways circumventing an obvious tell, but telling anyway. Take cynical - you want your character Pete to appear cynical. You can use the word as a modifier -

    Pete swept a cynical gaze over Edna emerging from the dressing room. "You really think you can get away with that?"

    Some might say that modifier is telling and you don't need it because of the dialogue - I don't necessarily agree. Swap cynical out with hopeful and you can change the scene. Leave either word out and depending on how good your context is - the reader might not get the biting tone and room is left for ambiguity.

    Telling can also reinforce style or tone. I can go on and on showing someone's looks or I could write - Sydney was so beautiful that if the head of Mattel ever spotted her they'd retire Barbie as a hobgoblin.
    Which could be more memorable than a lot of hooey about gold hair. ( so guilty of this! )

    Tell is a balancing act - too much the reader doesn't engage, not enough the story becomes flashy and frivolous ( in good hands ) or ambiguous and confusing ( in bad hands. )

    I think telling needs to be embraced - it's really gotten a bad rap for being an essential part of storytelling.
     
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  11. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    I really like this point. If your narrative is deeply drenched in character voice, it should read in the voice of that character (thanks, Captain Obvious!). I could easily see the POV character looking at Sydney and describing her in this way, which would give me insight in the POV character's personality.
     
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  12. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Both, of course.

    "Show, don't tell," doesn't, to me, mean "Show, don't tell."

    It means, "When something is really important, it's likely to be much more powerful to the reader if you demonstrate it rather than flat-out explaining it."
     
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