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Thread: Show don't tell

  1. #1
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    Show don't tell

    It's been brought out by the few writers that have critiqued my stuff that I do too much telling, and not enough showing. And, ideally, it should be the other way around. So, since this is something I need to work on, I was just curious as to whether or not any of you have had the same problem and what you have had to do to counter it.



  2. #2
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    You know, I hear that "show don't tell" phrase all the time, and I've always thought it a vague and irrational slogan people throw around to sound knowledgeable about writing. Writing is all telling and no showing, nothing visual, so what does "show don't tell" really mean?

    It means when you tell a story, don't simply tell the reader that a man is cruel, tell about him actually DOING something cruel and let the reader judge that it's cruel. Writing is all telling, but the manner in which you tell makes all the difference. As much as possible, tell about action, and when there is no action, let your words boster what the reader knows of the characters. For example, what sort of things does a cruel man have in his apartment? What colors does he like? Is he the fastidious type and his cruelty more sophisticated? Let your non-action descriptions re-inforce the personality of a character in the reader's mind. That's about it.

  3. #3
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    So, instead of saying something like "Jeff was a cruel man," say something like -- "Jeff was a being who delighted in kicking his dog on the way out the door each morning. Who always had to have the last word in a fight, even if the words were lousy with bile and venom. Who crushed underfoot anything or, for that matter, anyone that stood in the way of his ambitions. Regardless of how trite those ambitions may be."
    Last edited by Jennifer Hord; 06-18-2012 at 06:47 AM. Reason: saw something i didn't like ;0)

  4. #4
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    No, you tell AS HE DOES IT.

    Jeff slammed the door to his apartment and kicked his dog out of his way. The dog yelped into the distance as Jeff lit a cigerette and muttered, "Serves you right, you little bastard."

    You don't say a word ABOUT Jeff. You just tell what he does and let the reader judge.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 06-18-2012 at 07:01 AM.

  5. #5
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    (gnawing bottom lip, arching right eyebrow in deep thought). Okay. I think I got it. At least for now. I may need some reiteration later. But don't think it's because I didn't listen to you. I just have short-term memory issues. Half an ADHD thing, half a I've-been-epileptic-for-nearly-25-of-my-30-something-years.

    Gotta go get ready for the day job now. Grrrrrr!!!!

  6. #6
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    I was able to recognize it in my own work by seeing it first in the work of other writers. I still struggle with it and admire your tenacity.

    The writing I fell in love with, the writing that made me want so desperately to be a writer, let me discover the story for myself. There is still telling in great writing, IMHO, but there is more too. From Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five:
    So we sat down. O’Hare was embarrassed, but he wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. I couldn’t imagine what it was about me that could burn up Mary so. I was a family man. I’d been married only once. I wasn’t a drunk. I hadn’t done her husband any dirt in the war. She fixed herself a Coca-Cola, made a lot of noise banging the ice-cube tray in the stainless steel sink. Then she went into another part of the house. But she wouldn’t sit still. She was moving all over the house, opening and shutting doors, even moving furniture around to work off anger. I asked O’Hare what I’d said or done to make her act that way.
    Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-five: or, The children's crusade, a duty-dance with death (Kindle Locations 191-196). Dial Press.
    He tells us O'Hare's wife is mad, but he let's us find out just how mad she is for ourselves. We can also see he is clueless as to why.
    Last edited by Michael OBryan; 06-22-2012 at 01:07 AM.

  7. #7
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    Hi Jennifer basically you show a lot to get the reader hooked right from the get go - then slow down the pace with some backstory telling then pick up the pace again with showing.
    Example of telling - He told his friend to get out and never to return.
    Showing - "get the hell - I never want to see again."
    Tip the first 1000 words are the most important - you must use them to hook the reader.

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