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Chris G.
July 31st, 2005, 09:37 PM
Some very critical writers on other forums I belong to praise my work, but accuse me of telling more than showing. A few have said by the middle of my second book I was 'getting the hang ot it.'

Wonderful! Now please help me here. What is the difference?!?!?!?!?
I don't know how to recognize in my own writing or any other for that matter, where it is telling and where it is showing. UGH! :mad:

Taysir
July 31st, 2005, 09:54 PM
Post a piece of your work that is emblematic of the whole novel. We can read it and point it out to you.

The difference is that 'telling' is-- I believe-- is much less engaging.

'Joe ran home. Picked up his books. Ran out."

Where-as 'showing' evokes a vivid image in the readers mind. Something they can relate to.

That is much harder to provide an example for; it is simply harder to do and requires imagination and eloquence.

Ward
July 31st, 2005, 10:34 PM
telling vs showing is the difference between the author simply stating something, for example telling us a character is kind, cruel, powerful, nervous etc. and the author pulling back and letting the events and characters of a story show the reader what it is he wants to convey, ie. a piece of dialogue in which the kind character is considerate of another's feelings, a fight scene in which the cruel character kicks a man while he's down, the continual awe or fear or obsequiessness of characters throughout the story when confronted with the powerful character, a nervous character continually jumpy, fidgety, cracking knuckles, etc.

that's the basic idea, but it goes beyond that, beyond mere description: ie. don't tell me it was a horrible day, the worst day of his life, unless you are prepared to convince me by showing that is true. don't tell me the quest is monumentally important: make me feel it in my marrow for the length of your story. the idea of telling vs showing coexists at nearly all levels of a narrative, you need to do both but to achieve a real resonance you need to show what it is you are trying to communicate.

that's not to say you can't 'tell' some things, or that all things have to be shown: you just can't rely totally on one or the other. the big weakness with telling is you are simply asking the reader to believe you without convincing him, without really telling the story of a character, event, etc.

the main thing to keep in mind is the author's voice, your voice, if its you simply stating something its telling, if its one of your characters stating something, or discussing something or, better yet, if its action that conveys an idea or evokes a mood or, best of all, if its the continual interaction of character, description, plot, and language sustained throughout the length of an entire piece then you are showing the reader something, you are telling the story of a character, or event, or place.

odds are you are already showing a lot, so the easiest way to 'fix' the problem is to go back and cut instances of your 'telling;' you can probably do without most of it if you are already conveying the ideas in some other way (ie. if Mr. Baker just bought ice cream for the orphan you can eliminate the refrence ot him being such a nice guy, we get it already). don't think you need to write elaborate scenes, descriptives, refrences, etc. for every instance of telling you eliminate, but in some instances you may want to.

now, sometimes the authorial voice of a piece demands the telling of some things...but if your audience is complaining about telling odds are it is out of place in your present work.

Chris G.
August 1st, 2005, 12:39 AM
“No!”

“It’s okay, Captain, the oxygenated emulsion is breathable. Try to relax. We won’t cover you completely for several minutes yet.”
Captain Mike Jensen nodded and drew a steadying breath as the technician turned away. Closing his eyes, he forced himself calm and shoved away his lingering concerns about what he might have forgotten. One thousand years in transit was a long time to realize even one waking from now that you forgot to feed the cat or something!
“Its cold,” Mike said to the unseen technician. Above him the dim lights of the ship’s personnel cargo hold reminded Mike of a great cavernous tomb. Last in and first waking, he imagined the cavernous hold with its layered berths that he couldn’t see and wished he could move around, but you weren’t supposed to move during the emulsion process.
“That’s modern medicine for you, Captain, everything is cold. Breathe normally.”
Mike realized that he was panting, his fear at this process overwhelming his common sense. Oxygen emulsion suspension was necessary, but damn frightening even though he’d been through it before. The idea was that the freezing process, which was slow the first time out, needed a medium in which to more thoroughly freeze the body. Though the actual cryogenics process hadn’t started yet, it was damn cold anyway. No, what had him frightened wasn’t the fifty years as a popsicle before the first waking cycle, it was ‘drowning’ in oxygenated emulsion. Everyone freaked from it, it was natural, but knowing all of that didn’t make the process any easier.
“All right, Captain, remember, deep breaths. We have to stabilize the emulsion for several minutes after covering you. You know, let it settle, and then we’ll put you in, when you wake-.”
“I know!” Mike spat, his fear and desire to get it over with getting the better of him. “I’m not a rookie here. Just get on with it.”
The face of the technician appeared over him again. It was a round and fleshy face, the face of a man who exuded confidence in his job, but demonstrated how unfit he was for a deep colonization project like this one. Only the most fit and accomplished people in their fields had been chosen for this, all twenty thousand of them. Men like the technician, paunchy, overweight but not obese, yet good at what they did, didn’t measure up. Mike didn’t know his name, had a sudden desire to ask him and then had to suppress a wry chuckle. He was a dead man, like everyone else being left behind. Dead and buried long before they ever reached Epsilon System. What point in knowing names or making new friends?
“Keep it cool, Mike, everything’s go and by the numbers here.”
“You know me?” Mike asked. Now that was a stupid question, just about everyone on the planet knew him. First captain of Earth’s first deep space colony ship. The years leading up to this voyage had lent him an uncomfortable, yet unavoidable, level of celebrity. He was the leading symbol of Mankind’s ‘hopes and dreams.’ Right now, he was just cold and frightened.
The technician smiled warmly and turned away again to check his instruments. “We met five years ago the first time you went in. I’m not surprised you don’t remember me, you were thinking of other things when you woke. I won’t bother telling you my name. It’ll just stick in your memory and might interfere with the program. Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Mike said and stared at the ceiling without looking at it. The sensation of the emulsion felt like death as it rose to cover the rest of his body and then his face. The world above him became a blue haze owing to the emulsion’s color. Closing his eyes, Mike concentrated on taking that first breath and consoled himself that he wasn’t really drowning, it just felt that way. When he could no longer hold his last pure breath of actual air, good old, dirty, gaseous air for next fifty years, Captain Mike Jensen blew out that breath, heaved in another and died.

blop
August 1st, 2005, 08:43 AM
I struggle with this a bit myself, so trying to spot it in other folks writing is great practise. Here's one I spotted:



“As I’ll ever be,” Mike said and stared at the ceiling without looking at it. The sensation of the emulsion felt like death as it rose to cover the rest of his body and then his face.

"felt like death" - I don't know what death feels like, but I think you mean cold in a bad way. If this feeling is so unpleasant show us. I think this is how I'd do it (as everything I do, it's probably overlong):

"The creeping gelatinous gunk creeped up his quivering sides tickling his body hair and stimulating headlong goose bumps. This sensation was akin to having thousands of slugs edging their was accross his skin; the clammy fingers of awaiting oblivion."

This feeling, which is the centerpiece of this scene, is obvioulsy dredded by the protagonist, so I think it's worth taking a little time to describe this experience and really drag the reader in.

Further on, having to actually drown yourself is gonna be a really distressing experience. Can it go wrong? Prehaps he struggles a little as he takes that gulp. How is his heartbeat? How does the fluid feel when it contacts with his lungs? Are his last waking moments one of blind panic? Or is drowning (as the rumour goes) actually quite a serene experience?

This has the potential to be a fantastic and dramatic scene. All the ground work is there, you just need to feel the details a little and really make the reader feels that they are part. In other words - show them.

Hope this is helpful!

TheEarCollector
August 1st, 2005, 12:32 PM
Drowning, serene? No.
Almost drowned myself, and it is quite violent.
On top of that when the military does training to prepare their soldiers for torture via drowning, they seem to have violent results too.

I just thought I could throw this point in because if your pbody thinks it is drowning then you are going to react...

Like others have said, telling is bad because it skips over the story. You say it was a bad day and I am just supposed to believe it... Or even worse, you think that I as a reader would be too stupid to figure out that it was a bad day just because the character found out his wife was cheating on him and his dog got run over by a car. If I know these things have happened, I can come to the conlusion that it was a bad day without having the writer spell it out for me (for example).

Expendable
August 1st, 2005, 03:31 PM
Captain Mike Jensen nodded and drew a steadying breath as the technician turned away. Closing his eyes, he forced himself calm and shoved away his lingering concerns about what he might have forgotten.
Here you're showing us his anxiousness.


One thousand years in transit was a long time to realize even one waking from now that you forgot to feed the cat or something!
This is telling about the duration of the voyage.


“Its cold,” Mike said to the unseen technician.
Here you're telling us it's cold. You're not showing us that he's blue, pale, goose-pimply or chattering his teeth. His speech isn't slurred and he seems still able to think clearly. As far as we know, he can still feel his fingers and toes. He may as well be complaining about the air conditioning.


Above him the dim lights of the ship’s personnel cargo hold reminded Mike of a great cavernous tomb. Last in and first waking, he imagined the cavernous hold with its layered berths that he couldn’t see and wished he could move around, but you weren’t supposed to move during the emulsion process.
This is telling us about the layout of the room and the importance of not moving.


The idea was that the freezing process, which was slow the first time out, needed a medium in which to more thoroughly freeze the body. Though the actual cryogenics process hadn’t started yet, it was damn cold anyway.
This is telling us about the freezing process. How is it cold?


No, what had him frightened wasn’t the fifty years as a popsicle before the first waking cycle, it was ‘drowning’ in oxygenated emulsion. Everyone freaked from it, it was natural, but knowing all of that didn’t make the process any easier.
You’re telling us he’s frightened and about the next cycle in this journey.


“I know!” Mike spat, his fear and desire to get it over with getting the better of him. “I’m not a rookie here. Just get on with it.” Here you're showing/telling us his anxiety. By cutting the line in Red you'd have a smoother flow I think.


Only the most fit and accomplished people in their fields had been chosen for this, all twenty thousand of them. Men like the technician, paunchy, overweight but not obese, yet good at what they did, didn’t measure up.
Here you’re telling us about the recruiting requirements.


Mike didn’t know his name, had a sudden desire to ask him and then had to suppress a wry chuckle. He was a dead man, like everyone else being left behind. Dead and buried long before they ever reached Epsilon System. What point in knowing names or making new friends?
Here you’re telling us about his desire to ask and the length of the voyage. But you're showing him supressing a chuckle.


Now that was a stupid question, just about everyone on the planet knew him. First captain of Earth’s first deep space colony ship. The years leading up to this voyage had lent him an uncomfortable, yet unavoidable, level of celebrity. He was the leading symbol of Mankind’s ‘hopes and dreams.’ Right now, he was just cold and frightened.
Now you’re telling us this is the first deep space voyage and your captain being a cold celebrity. You can't show how he'd been uncomfortable being a celebrity so you're telling us he was.


“As I’ll ever be,” Mike said and stared at the ceiling without looking at it. This is showing us he's distracted, possibly anxious about the next part.


The sensation of the emulsion felt like death as it rose to cover the rest of his body and then his face. The world above him became a blue haze owing to the emulsion’s color.
Here you’re telling us about the emulsion -but showing us the emulsion's blue color. Personally I'd cut the part in red as unnecessary.

Something I want you to keep in mind is you can't avoid telling us some things. Not everything I pointed out is bad. I just want you to keep in mind that some of that you could have shown us.

KatG
August 1st, 2005, 06:02 PM
I'll let the others give you critique help and just explain what telling and showing are, and why you don't need to freak out.

Showing is, essentially, a scene. Showing consists mainly of description of sensory data, which includes visual and auditory data which usually make up action in a scene. Showing also includes dialogue, which is an action, but one that is presented directly to readers instead of just described. With me so far?

Okay, telling is everything else in the narrative -- essentially, exposition. Telling may occur within a scene or outside of scenes as fragments or whole blocks of exposition. This telling/exposition includes and is often mostly made up of the inner thoughts and feelings, assessments and analysis of the narrating characters -- character pov. It also includes information provided by the omniscient narrator, if you have one of those.

So if you say, "George opened the door" -- that's sensory data, action, it's showing. If you say "George wondered what was behind the door" -- that's character pov, and that's telling. Most parts of any fictional narrative are made up of telling/exposition, but the level of showing/action description varies. There are some writers who use very little exposition and some who use tons.

Most of the time, people don't notice that the telling is telling. Unless it rings flat, which is what in a sense Expendable is talking about. Struggling writers often tell in exposition things that might work better as sensory description in a scene -- key plot events for instance. The solution to this problem in the writing community was seen as telling everyone that all "telling" is evil, though definitions of telling will vary widely, as you may see here. It is possible, of course, to do a key plot event as exposition, not a scene -- Stephen King did it quite skillfully in "Pet Semetary" -- but usually, big plot events get scenes, and it's a good idea to consider what sensory data you can use in your narrative.

Obviously, you have scenes in your work. And in those scenes, you're going to do a certain amount of telling. But if the telling is boring and doesn't work well enough with character pov to develop the narrative, it's likely to not work for the reader. What you have to be careful about though is the danger of going in the other direction -- writing reams and reams of text just to get across the idea that it's cold, when you can simply say "it's cold." There are also many parts of a story where information needs to be imparted to the reader, but you don't want to do so through a scene, whereupon transitional telling/exposition can be extraordinarily useful.

Telling and showing work together, and are often deeply intertwined through character pov. Look at this bit of sf narrative, which comes from the middle of a long scene and figure out what's the sensory description (action/showing,) and what's the exposition/inner mind (telling):

In the meantime, the furious and disorganized enemy had just spotted him. Ender calculated how soon he would reach the wall so he could launch again. Not soon enough. Ender was startled to see Stilson's face among them. Then he shuddered and realized he had been wrong. Still, it was the same situation, and this time they wouldn't sit still for a single combat settlement. There was no leader, as far as Ender knew, and these boys were a lot bigger than him.
Still, he had learned some things about weight-shifting in personal combat class, and about the physics of moving objects. Game battles almost never got to hand-to-hand combat -- you never bumped into an enemy that wasn't frozen. So in the few seconds he had, Ender tried to position himself to receive his guests.

So yes, you may be doing too much telling. Or you may simply be doing telling that doesn't work very well and is too stiff and flat sounding. It doesn't hurt to sometimes get poetic and use metaphors and similies instead of saying "it's cold," or sometimes, to show it's cold rather than have the character just think it, maybe simply by having the character observe sensory data such as his own smoky cloud of breath. But if the character is always having goosepimples, that's not going to necessarily work either. Showing and telling are partners, so if you feel the criticism is valid, you can look at what in the telling parts may be repetitious, stilted, uninformative, awkward with the action, etc.