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  1. #11
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2010

    Re: When Telling's Better than Showing

    An interesting alternative to telling is the internal monolog. It must be kept interesting, but can both advance the story and expose a lot of traits the character would never reveal in dialog.

    I offer the following example. Jack has just learned that a second attempt to kill his wife and brother in law has failed. Arab terrorists hired him to kill them both and destroy their free energy machine. The information could be compressed into less than a page of telling, but I think this is a lot more effective, and a good use of five pages. My apologies to those who will complain the post is too long at 2,044 words, but I think it shows the principle. Jack wouldn’t explain this to any living soul, so dialog is out.

    Jack Mirrelli was furious, though none of the people sitting around him could have guessed it as he worked his way through the excellent veal piccata. Nothing was going right. Lou called. Lisa was still alive and Lou was sweating bullets because she recognized him. His own damn fault. Just because some jerk left the keys in a monster truck didn’t mean you had to use it to run over people. She couldn’t have gotten under an ordinary car, but no, Lou had to use the biggest friggin’ thing he could steal.

    At least they got the gadgets out of the safe and torched the old truck garage. That gave Jack a hundred and twenty grand in insurance on the building plus the invention. Maybe the free energy machine was real. It was good enough to fool the expert the Arabs brought along. Think about that later.

    Everything else had gone to hell in a hand basket. He nearly **** himself when Jason showed up at the hospital alive and well, guitar case slung over his shoulder and that scrawny nut case he was screwing tagging along behind. The Limey safecracker swore there was enough plastic on the boat so the anchor and the engine would land a mile apart. No bodies and a hundred grand in insurance on the boat. Only it didn’t blow up.
    Lou had already taken the limey to the usual place on the East River, so that link was cut. The bomb on the boat didn’t matter. The fire department found the one in the brownstone disarmed. That must have been Jason. No surprises there. The kid was brilliant, but he didn’t have enough common sense to pour piss out of a boot. He must have disarmed the one on the boat too.

    Three and a half million he would have collected on the brownstone and the insurance specifically covered Lisa’s workshop, so they couldn’t squirm out of paying either. If the fire spread to the other three buildings, like he planned, there would have been millions in play to put up a high-rise on the site. He already owned a quarter of the block. With Lisa’s life insurance added to the pile, he could have been the single biggest investor. He would have run the whole project. Kickbacks, union deals, it could have been his biggest score in years.

    Now he couldn’t do **** except sit in an expensive restaurant and drag out dinner so he could prove where he was all evening. And handle a minor payoff to someone who might be a useful asset down the road. At least the commissioner was happy with the restaurant. The bitch was packing away the fettuccini and letting him think. He sipped his wine and cut off another piece of veal.

    Maybe he should have blown up Lisa along with the building. Lou wanted to do it that way. No, he’d been right. A simple hit-and-run and a missing boat was the best way. If they didn’t call in the bomb threat, the explosion could have killed everyone in the building, maybe in all three buildings. A dozen or so people blasted to hamburger, including women and children? No way did he want any part of that **** sandwich, even with his clout.
    He could steer the cops a little in a bombing that didn’t kill anyone. Feed them a radical group or even his disgruntled ex-employee, what’s-his-name the safe cracker. They could search for him all they wanted. A mass murder investigation would be federal and just go on and on. So he’d done the right thing. So what?

    He still had to get rid of Lisa and Jason, and there wasn’t any quiet way to do it now. Jason’s little con game had been the perfect way out. He called the Arabs knowing they’d panic and kill Jason and Lisa both. He’d be in the clear and they’d wind up owing him a favor. He didn’t expect the Arabs to want him to kill them, but when they started talking the big bucks he just couldn’t pass it up.

    He put it together too fast. Greedy. Stupid greedy. He should have known better, but the Limey box man was right there, Lou was right there, even the plastic from the hijacking was there, and that stuff didn’t grow on trees. It all seemed to fall together and he went for it.

    Lisa was the problem. She knew too much about the money. His money. When he was out of town and she washed four million for that little bastard N’gen, well, that was too much.

    It made him realize how much she knew. And how much she didn’t understand. N’gen was into everything, drugs, white slavery, kidnapping, extortion; he was Crimes-R-Us for half the gooks in New York City. Three suitcases of street cash, half the serial numbers could have been on a hot sheet, and Lisa just waltzed off to Toronto with them like she was going downtown for lunch and a manicure. He jacked up her insurance the next day.

    When he found the Thai kid working The Red Room, Lisa became excess baggage. Five foot nothing and she could suck a golf ball through a mile of garden hose without coming up for air. And she was stupid. Great tits, nice ass, hot in bed, and a smile that could give a marble statue a boner, complete with the IQ of a coffee cup and no green card. The perfect package. A much safer screw than drop-dead-gorgeous Lisa with the super memory and the genius brother.

    Getting rid of her meant Jason had to go too, but that was no big deal. People knew Lisa. With Lisa gone, nobody cared about Jason. He could disappear like flushing a dead goldfish down the toilet. At least until that fruitcake old friend of Lisa’s showed up and latched on to him. Now all three of them had to go. How?

    His cell rang. Now what had Lou screwed up? It didn’t matter what Lisa thought she saw. Between Lisa’s injuries and the drugs she was on, nothing she said would hold water after Jack talked to the deputy prosecutor. Jack gave his dinner companion a quizzical look, and she nodded with a cultured smile. A dinner uninterrupted by phone calls was unusual in her world too.


    “Herman Raader here. I just heard about your wife. Tragic. Is there anything I can do?”

    “Naw. We’re just waiting for the swelling to go down, to see how bad it is.”

    “I do hope there are no complications. With such serious injuries one can never be certain of the … long term prognosis, shall we say?”

    “I suppose that’s true.” Christ! Did he know about Lou’s bungling already? Raader was in Switzerland for Christ’s sake. How did he do that?

    “I heard you also suffered some property damage?”

    “Just an old building I picked up a few years ago when the company went out of business. Probably some drunks lit a fire to keep warm.”

    “Yes, the homeless can be quite destructive. I understand a curio of some value to certain Middle Eastern collectors may have been destroyed as well?”

    Jack tried to keep his voice level. He was just glad they weren’t on a network connection with the little camera thingies.

    “If it was there it must have burned up, I guess, I mean, well, who knows for sure what was in an old abandoned building like that? It will be a few days before we can get in to see what’s left.”

    “Indeed. Should that curio turn up, and function as my sources say it does, I could be a lot more generous than your previous associates. I would also be severely annoyed were it to be lost again. I am sending a representative of mine, a Mr. Smith, to New York. You know where to contact him.”

    “Sure, if he stays where you do when you come over.”

    “Precisely. He will bring a sum equal to five times the amount mentioned in your arrangement with the collectors. As a down payment only, to hold the curio for me should you happen to discover it.”

    “That’s real generous of you.”

    “Yes.” There was a click as Raader hung up.

    Oh, ****.

    He looked up at his dinner companion. “I apologize for the interruption, Ms. Weston.”

    “Linda, please. Don’t mention it. Mine will probably go off during desert. I hope you don’t mind my making such a pig of myself. I know we have business to discuss, but this food is wonderful.”

    The witch gave him a warm friendly smile. Jack wasn’t fooled. She was a two legged barracuda, showcasing her cleavage in a Messimo from Jermyn Street bought with graft. If she didn’t get a chunk of his money, she’d rip a bleeding chunk out of his ass and they both knew it. He matched her smile with his own.

    “If we try to talk business during a meal in this restaurant the chef will beat us both over the head with a sauté pan. This food is to be enjoyed, Linda. We can talk later, over coffee and brandy.”

    She nodded and returned to her meal. There wouldn’t be much talking later. He would pass her an envelope with ten grand in it and she would use her seat on the commission to block any attempt to start a local investigation about the cigarette smuggling business the feds closed down. He made a half a million on it, but some bastard spilled his guts to the feds. They didn’t have anything on him, of course. In six months or so he would start it up again. The taxes weren’t going away and he knew plenty of storeowners and wholesalers who would rather put a buck a pack in their pockets than three in Albany’s. Three and a half if the new tobacco tax hike went through and he’d already shelled out fifty grand to help it along. And he would have a police commissioner hooked for the next three years. That was the way to do business in New York City, not messing with free electricity machines.

    How in hell could Raader know so much? He must have heard about the electricity machine from the Arabs. Runny-mouthed bastards, always telling someone how smart they were. Herman Raader was a big cheese in Europe, and a lot closer to the camel jockeys, so it made sense. But if he knew about this deal, what else did he know about? The drugs? That was heavy ****. Nothing he handled ever showed up on the East Coast, but he supplied almost half of the Midwest heroin market with material from his Arab connections, and he kept that real close. Even Lisa didn’t know where that money came from. But Herman Raader might.

    Even at their most powerful, the families never crossed the Raaders. They had been around forever. They made Boss Tweed, and both Dick Croker and Lucky Luciano owed them big time, or so the story went. Even The Clutch Hand walked carefully around them, and he was the craziest paisano ever. Now a Raader wanted something and fronted big bucks to make sure he got it. Screwing with the camel jockeys was one thing. You didn’t welch on a Raader. On the other hand, they wanted something he had. Tit for tat. Maybe this Mr. Smith could take care of his family problem? Why did the veal piccata suddenly taste like sawdust?

  2. #12
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2011

    Re: When Telling's Better than Showing

    There's nothing wrong with "telling." Often you need to bring the reader up to speed quickly -- for that, you just hand the poor goof what's needed in order to get on with the scene.

    The advantage of "showing" is that you pile in little hints & bits of data, & at some critical point the reader says, "Oh -- I get it!!" That creates emotional buy-in, as though the reader is sitting right at your shoulder rather than being lectured at.

    Marshall McLuhan differentiates between "hot" & "cool" media. With a hot medium, there's little room for participation: it's all there, cut-&-dried. A cool medium requires an active mind to take in the data & "warm it up" to turn it into information.

    I agree that "show, don't tell" is overused in its simplistic form. I try to avoid the cliche, but when I use some similar comment, what I mean is that the writer is doing too much telling, & the story comes across like I'm watching a small stage from the back row, where I want more opportunity to be drawn into the play, to crane forward resisting the urge to leap up & join in the interaction. The play may be incredibly well-crafted, but what I want is to have more of the illusion that I'm in the middle of the action.

  3. #13
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Rhinebeck, NY

    Re: When Telling's Better than Showing

    So you're Anthony the Younger? Interesting that there are two Anthony Ravenscrofts here at WN. What are the odds of that? :S

    'Course the other one hasn't been around here in quite a while.


  4. #14
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2011

    Re: When Telling's Better than Showing

    Hola, K. I simply ran into problems while WN was upgrading, & had other things to do with my life. Then I happened to stop by, & found that the password worked. Clearly this has affected you as well, since you've been here only eight months...?

    Anything to add to the topic at hand?

  5. #15
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2011

    Re: When Telling's Better than Showing

    This thread has [s]actually[/s] been so helpful, thanks! B)

  6. #16
    James North
    Telling can be used to give the reader a break between intense scenes, but it should be short. As others have posted, telling can be used to speed up the story. It can also be used to skip over an uninteresting subject that’s needed to seamlessly connect scenes or events. If there is repetition in your story, you need some way to remove that repetition and telling can do that. Let’s say your character is an actor who must rehearse a scene over and over again; you would not turn each rehearsal into a scene but just tell that the character has rehearsed the scene ten times. In this respect, telling (a short paragraph) can help you leave out the parts readers skip over, something you should always strive for. But telling should always be short and immediate scenes should far outnumber and overpower any telling. Pages of telling will glaze your reader’s eyes over as quickly as repeating scenes over ten times. If your story is a thriller, you WANT intense scene after intense scene – lots of action with few and short respites to let your reader rest. How much is too much it subjective and differs from person to person.

    Your scenes should be visual and involve all human senses. Telling does not do that. Telling does not put your reader there at the scene, nor does it create an image in your reader’s mind like a movie film in the skull. Basically, you as the writer must lead your reader on a daydream – a daydream under your control. Telling does not do that, showing does; it invites the read to participate. This is one reason you leave a lot to the reader’s imagination and do not try to explain every little detail or insult the reader’s intelligence by explaining the obvious.

    You do not want all show, but the great preponderance of your story should be show. The exact equation varies according to type of story, readers you are targeting, and your own writing style.
    Last edited by James North; 05-01-2011 at 05:02 PM.

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