1. Neural

    Neural Member

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    Showing, Telling, and dialog

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Neural, Nov 20, 2016.

    Ok, first off.. I don't know if I'm looking for answers, opinions, or validation here, so I'm just going to do a mini brain dump to try and explain what is going on.

    I was watching a you-tube vid and the individual made an example of showing vs. telling which really kinda pinpointed for me an area that I've been struggling with.

    This is how to "show" within a dialog/conversation.

    I've seen advice hammering on avoiding using "said" too much. So that dialogs do not become "he said. he said. she said. he said." etc., but I look back at almost all of my stories recently that contain dialog, and see this form of telling.

    I may write something like the following:
    "I'm going to the store!" she exclaimed, slamming the door behind her as she left.

    That still feels, to me, like telling. Am I wrong there?

    Where it *really* is bothering me is the grammatical mechanics. Some circumstances, as I see it, demand a verbal statement from a character be made *before* any description of the action taken, which then traps one into the demand for a "he said" type statement, even if it is followed by an action description.

    I wrote a dialog last night in a flash fiction story, and it's probably the longest dialog I've done in a while, and I am very unhappy with it for this very reason. I feel like I've simply invented a dozen ways to say "she said".

    Are there any good resources (examples/tetmplates) that someone such as myself can reference to sort of aid with writing a dialog that is accompanied by "showing" vs. one that relies on "telling"?
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    There isn't really a clear definition of what "showing" or "telling" mean in this context. Based on the way I generally understand the terms ("showing" is creating a rich, vivid depiction of something, telling is essentially a summary or explanation) I'm not sure I see the connection to dialogue or dialogue tags...

    For your example, I think you could certainly avoid dialogue tags just by writing it as something like:

    "I'm going to the store!" She slammed the door behind her.

    But I don't see a connection to the showing/telling issue...

    Can you clarify?
     
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  3. Neural

    Neural Member

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    *That* right there is one of the things I'm running into. I would *like* to do that in many cases, but it doesn't feel very smooth to me (to use music as an example, it reads to me like hitting a flat note sounds when you were expecting a natural).

    I guess maybe something I need to learn more about is how to judge when it is okay to break away from "she said".

    For clarification, and taking into account your information, perhaps the issue I'm having is that dialog "tags", as I have learned them, tend to go hand-in-hand with "telling". IF it is grammatically legal to break away from the tags, then "showing" becomes a bit easier.

    (yes, dialog is something I struggle with. :) )
     
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    It's certainly grammatically legal - the tags are just there to let readers know who's speaking - if it's clear from the context who's speaking, you don't need the tags.

    I just finished writing a scene in which there are only two characters in the room. The language/subject is a bit crude, and it's a first draft, not polished or edited, but if you can get past that...

    Seb was clearly dismissed and expected to get to work, but he perched on the arm of the opposite sofa instead. “That girl—Becky. What’s her story? What was all that about?”

    “Becks? Her story? Yeah, that’s a long, tragic tale of none-of-your-fucking-business.”

    Seb shook his head, ignoring the warning. “She was kinda manic, but she didn’t seem that way yesterday. So, drugs, or mental illness, or…?”

    “The guy who got too rough with you last night,” Trey said thoughtfully. “You get off on that? You like getting beat up? That’s why you’re shoving your nose into something I just fucking said was none of your business?”

    “Yeah, I get off on it. But, no, I’m pushing my nose into this because—” Because why? Did Seb actually have a reason, or was he just making an excuse? “Because it might be a problem for the movement if one of the people going around trying to recruit new members is off her head because of a chemical imbalance or chemical consumption.”

    “I’ll be with her. She’ll be fine.” Trey cocked his head and Seb could practically see the blow coming. “Would it be a problem for the movement if one of the people who’s supposed to be helping to run things has a weird kink that gets him into dangerous situations?”

    “There’s no connection between that and my work.”

    “Bullshit. I barely know you, you’re at work, and you’ve already told me about it. Who else are you going to tell about it, and how’s that going to make people think of us?”

    Jesus, Seb wished he could go back to the simple days of Trey being a barely verbal caveman. “I shouldn’t have told you. Obviously. I have no plans to tell anyone else.”

    “You had no plans to tell me, either, did you? So you not having plans doesn’t seem to do you much good.”

    “Are you actually concerned about this or are you just pushing me back on the Becky thing?”

    “Do you still need to be pushed back on the Becky thing?”

    “No.”

    Trey pressed a button on the remote and the TV clicked to life. “Then we’re done.”
    There isn't a single speech tag in there, I don't think, but there are only two of them speaking and the different perspectives make it clear who's saying what, so the tags aren't needed.

    It gets more complicated if you have more than two characters in the scene, but most of the time you don't need to tag your speech as long as you're giving other details as needed.

    ETA: Oops, nope, there's a tag - "Trey said thoughtfully". It's not really needed for clarity, but I wanted to break up the speech a little. It's there for rhythm more than meaning.
     
  5. Neural

    Neural Member

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    I see I have a long way to go with dialog. LOL. Thanks :)
     
  6. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Think of it more in degrees rather than black and white.

    First, using dialogue to reveal something is not 'telling'. But dialogue can be overused, like when you have a character speak lines and lines of exposition explaining things to another character. It would appear you recognized that overuse of the technique doesn't usually read very well.

    Getting back to your passage:
    Slamming the door shows the character's anger without having to tell us 'she exclaimed'. But it's a bit dull to just say someone slammed a door. Show us more, her feelings, her facial expression, her clothes like maybe she left without a coat. You as the writer have to decide what details will convey the story best.

    Instead of thinking about it as X is showing and Y is telling, think of it more like, you can recognize a new writer by a story where the author tells the story with very little showing.


    Peruse writers' blogs and 'how to write' books, you'll find dozens of descriptions and examples.
     
  7. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Keep writing. Contributor

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    Dialogue can be tricky, I used to have a habit of leaning hard on showing/telling, and any dialogue that showed up was an afterthought.

    Maybe try writing a play or screenplay, they're very dialogue heavy and can help build up experience.
     
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  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not clear on what you see as telling. Is the problem the 'exclaimed', or the door-slamming? I assume it's the 'exclaimed'.

    In any case, some thoughts:

    - "Said" is almost always the best dialogue tag. It would have been fine in your example.

    - If you have too many 'saids', the solution isn't to pepper in a bunch of other dialogue tags, it's to replace them with beats or otherwise make tags unnecessary. So losing the 'said', as in @BayView's example, is also dandy.
     
  9. Quanta

    Quanta Senior Member

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    When I write dialogs, I use tags only when it would otherwise be unclear who is speaking. I find it so annoying when I have to reread a dialogue and count the lines to figure out who said what. Tags should move the story along, not slow it down. Too many tags are distracting, especially if you make too much of an effort to find a different one for each line. If your dialog is strong, you won't need a dramatic tag for the reader to know the mood of your character. "Said" and "asked" are almost invisible. They add clarity while being easy to skim over by the reader.
     
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  10. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with @Carly Berg that the issue with how to use attributions and the kinds of attributions one uses are seperate and sundry from the concept of Show vs. Tell. The example given in Carly's post is excellent. The problem happens when ostensible pundits over-apply the dynamic of Show vs. Tell to areas of writing that don't fall under its umbrella. The overreach often takes the form of a definition of show that encompasses much minute detail, and minute detail can happen in lots of places, and one can tell in very minute detail as well. One ends up missing the forest for the trees.
     
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  11. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    looking at my wip i tend to use tags other than said a fair bit - generally to show mood - e.g if the characters are deep behind enemy lines and in danger of imminent discover then it makes sense that essential communication would be whispered, murmured, hissed etc rather than just 'said'. Likewise in the heat of battle once everything has gone noisy , it might be screamed, shouted or yelled rather than said.

    The same goes for other communications like a scene in which people are arguing, or a happy scene of badinage and banter in a pub - the way in which the characters communicate shows their mood so it doesn't necessarily have to separately described.
     
  12. Tea@3

    Tea@3 Senior Member

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    Yeah, you've mixed apples and oranges in your thinking with this, because show/tell is a separate issue altogether from dialogue tags.

    But on that topic, Elmore Leonard only, *exclusively* used 'said' when attributing dialogue. (And he used it sparingly.)

    I think you would benefit from reading some well written fiction on a regular basis. It would boost your confidence for what 'feels' right.
     
  13. antlad

    antlad Banned

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    When you read, jot down anything different than 'said'. We all develop patterns in our writing, the key is to spot them and deal with them.
    I tend to use 'added', 'adding', to join statements, but gets boring.
    I haven't read what is above, may have been said. You can also used other words that don't have to do with speaking.

    "Great", he smiled.
    "Oh, you think so?", he grinned as he took in my stature.
    Through clenched teeth, he spat,"Get off'a my land!"
    A growl that sounded like, "Yer a dead man", issued forth through the hobbled man's smashed and bloody mouth.
    "No!", she squealed. Squealing "No!", she ran away.
    A moan escaped his lips.
    The mysterious stranger let his six-gun speak for him, holstering it as if closing his mouth when the conversation ended. None of the town folk had ever heard him speak; his actions were both word and deed.
    Laughing, I replied, "No!", then set about correcting their mistake.

    Do this type of thing and it will help set things in your head.
    When I am out at a store or anywhere really, I hear pieces of conversations and make little stories in my head, and about half the time it is just dialog in different ways. When I do it in my head, the narrative doesn't need to make sense, just carry on.
     
  14. Tea@3

    Tea@3 Senior Member

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    I think the objective (for me) is for the attribution to become invisible, so as to not break the reader's suspension within the story.

    Which, could be argued two ways. One could say (as Leonard did) that only using said makes it become invisible. (ie, familiarity breeds contempt) OTOH using it exclusively could (for some, I suppose) draw more attention to it.

    I fall into the former camp. I had read Leanard for twenty years before I ever even heard his ten rules of writing. And I realized it had never dawned on me he only used 'said.'
     

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