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  1. #1
    Grace Coffman

    Show dont tell....

    .... But what exactly does this mean? I thought I had a handle on this idea yet I've been giving more thought to this lately as I near the completion of my novel.

    Mine is a fantasy book that is heavy on characterization through conversation and limited insight into their thoughts.

    At first I thought "Show dont tell... ok, so show it through conversation and expressions and all that" but in a novel (such as mine) that is so chock full of all that already, how can I do it more?

    Can I tell just a little bit? I dont do it often enough that its picked up on but gosh, how can one show *everything* without it being a screenplay? *smiles*

    So I guess what I am wondering is what does this exactly mean. Maybe examples might help my covoluded mind? One can only wonder...

  2. #2

    Re: Show dont tell....

    I find this a very interesting issue. Some writers, particularly some well respected literary authors, do quite a bit of telling. I don't mind telling all that much as long as it's done well. For example, I enjoy Dennis Lehane's writing and he does a lot of telling.

    I think it is more tolerable when it is done for a purpose. Lehane tells so that the reader can really get inside the character's head. He doesn't do it because he can't think of the right words to show us.

    An example of showing vs. telling? Hmm. If you said that your protagonist was angry that would be telling. If you had the protagonist slamming a fist into the wall that would be showing. If you described the character's thoughts: i.e., how she wanted to wrap her fingers around her spouse's neck and squeeze; how she felt ashamed and furious, like she did as a kid when her dad stumbled into the house at midnight after a night at the neighborhood bar, that's still telling (I think), but not in the abbreviated, lazy way that most readers find offensive.

    I'll be interested to hear reactions from other posters.


  3. #3

    Re: Show dont tell....

    Here's a web site you can check out. (sorry don't know how to do the link thing...you'll have to cut and paste)


  4. #4
    Jack Hinks

    Re: Show dont tell....

    "Show, don't tell" is baloney invented to help people who've never read a story write one.

    Forgive me, but I have no patience with this malarkey.

    Actual writers -- people with the gift, with the skill, whatever -- have no use for such silliness.

    -- JH

  5. #5

    Re: Show dont tell....

    My, my, Jack. Giving people no room for improvement today? You're born knowing how to write or you'll never be a writer, is that it?

    Forgive me, but I have no patience with this malarkey.

    Actual writers -- people with the gift, with the skill, whatever -- do everything they can to improve their craft.

    -- LS

  6. #6
    Grace Coffman

    Re: Show dont tell....

    Great link, thank you! I still wonder in terms of description of place and in thought. We cant help but "tell" when it comes to a characters thoughts nor can we help but "tell" when we are describing things, places, etc? I would think it more redundant to rely on our characters to show everything but then again, as I said before, my book is very heavy in dialouge and characterization already - any more I think it would be a play!

  7. #7
    Jackie Kessler

    Re: Show dont tell....


    My MS is contemporary fantasy. The protags are from our here and now, so they learn a lot along the way. I was very worried about "info dumping": when the characters (and, therefore, the readers) are hit with a ton of information regarding an important subject. But hey--the characters had to be introduced to certain things, and the only way for them to learn was for them to be told about those things. Sometimes, characters have to ask, "What the hell is going on, and why?" And they sometimes will get answers.

    Try not to sweat it too much. Write what comes naturally to you. Then, once the story is done, go back and re-read. If parts of it come across like a lecture, then you may have too much telling going on.


  8. #8

    Re: Show dont tell....

    Jack, well said.

    And Liz:"...Actual writers -- people with the gift, with the skill, whatever -- do everything they can to improve their craft."

    This is true, but they don't allow pithy little rules dictate their style of writing.

  9. #9

    Re: Show dont tell....

    A pithy little rule? It's the key principle to good storytelling. We're not talking about senescent English teachers trying to pass on 101 rules for participles, we're talking about the most basic concept of realism in fiction.

    Showing in your writing is the art of crafting into every sentence the right verb, facial expression, descriptor, or piece of dialogue that fleshes out a character instead of a stale narrative ripping us out of your character's voice or a fetid dialogue tag conveying it for you.

    I don't know who the actual writers are that don't compulsively, constantly pick apart their prose looking for ways to replace a boring description with a living, breathing piece of action or sidewards glance. I sure haven't gotten there, and don't intend to.

  10. #10
    Jack Hinks

    Re: Show don't tell....

    "we're talking about the most basic concept of realism in fiction. "

    Well, not really. The basic concept of realism in fiction is probably to establish a narrative voice and distance that engage the reader completely, regardless of non-issues like showing and telling.

    Besides, realism is overrated. As John Hawkes said, "plot and character are the enemies of the modern novel." He was only half joking.

    Yer right, SquidNote. Little manaufactured "rules" just aren't for the serious.

    A fascinating thing appeared on the Smoko list a couple of days ago. Jane Forsman discovered John Cheever's "The Swimmer," and could hardly believe that such a magnificent work of art contained no "showing" at all. Only "telling."

    How far we have come. It's sad. Cheever, I know, wouldn't have had a clue as to what she was talking about.

    -- JH

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