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Anthorn
March 11th, 2007, 08:16 PM
this is showing.....

Anthorn woke with a start alerted by the shifting of weight at the edge of his cot and was greeted by the smiling face of his friend Nikita. "What do you want?" He asked rather testily, propping himself up by his elbows and winching from the strain of the bandages on his back.
"How are you?" Nikita asked tapping his foot gently.
Anthorn shrugged, flopping back down. "How do you think i feel. That jerk drew his sword across my back."


Am i showing or telling i have no clue.

AgentRustyBones
March 11th, 2007, 10:11 PM
this is showing.....

Anthorn woke with a start alerted by the shifting of weight at the edge of his cot and was greeted by the smiling face of his friend Nikita. "What do you want?" He asked rather testily, propping himself up by his elbows and winching from the strain of the bandages on his back.
"How are you?" Nikita asked tapping his foot gently.
Anthorn shrugged, flopping back down. "How do you think i feel. That jerk drew his sword across my back."


Am i showing or telling i have no clue.

Before I answer that, there are some grammar issues in that first sentence before Anthorn speaks. It looks like a run-on sentence to me, but because I have a terrible penchant for writing them myself, I'll let someone else suggest alternatives.

In answer to your question, you do both in this small sample.

You 'tell' when you write: "He asked rather testily," (also another run-on sentence).

This part is showing: ""How are you?" Nikita asked tapping his foot gently."

This second quote 'shows' Nikita's concern for Anthorn without 'telling' us that she is concerned for him.

The first sample 'told' us Anthorn was testy, when you could have 'shown' it by his actions rather than simply 'telling' us that he was testy.

Hopefully this helps.

Doug
aka Agent Rusty Bones

Ward
March 11th, 2007, 10:19 PM
Showing.

Basically, showing involves a scene, something that incorporates characters doing something (talking, fighting, moving, emoting).

Telling is when meaning is conveyed through narration, especially problematic when key plot or character details are conveyed in such a way.

Both are important, and are going to be in nealry every story. The 'show vs. tell' rule pops up a lot because many beginners don't know when to build scenes and when to convey info through exposition.

When you start to have the plot of your story conveyed mostly by narration (you telling the reader whats happened, or is happening) then you have a telling problem, and you need to construct scenes (just think of scenes as in a movie; setting, character, dialogue, action, mood, etc.). Scenes let the reader use their imagination, providing a hook, and bringing your story to life.

One caveat: lots of critiques from laymen tend to say 'you are telling and not showing' when they don't really know how to articulate what it is that doesn't work in the story. Usually they have some idea that the story doesn't feel 'alive,' but it isn't always because a writer is telling when they should be showing...it very well could be other problems with scene building and character.

(I have to diagree with AgentRustyBones above, when you describe a character as 'asking testily' you are showing that characters actions, providing scene direction as it were, you are not directly telling the reader anything, but having a character perform. There is no need to break telling and showing up on a line by line basis either, especially in the midst of a scene, which can be considered all showing for the most part. And certainly don't be afraid to describe somebody as testy, grumpy, angry, etc. when economy demands you must -- else every scene would be a mess of screwed up faces and scowls and groans and sneers and furrowed brows.)

Jacquin
March 12th, 2007, 02:41 AM
(I have to diagree with AgentRustyBones above, when you describe a character as 'asking testily' you are showing that characters actions, providing scene direction as it were, you are not directly telling the reader anything, but having a character perform. There is no need to break telling and showing up on a line by line basis either, especially in the midst of a scene, which can be considered all showing for the most part. And certainly don't be afraid to describe somebody as testy, grumpy, angry, etc. when economy demands you must -- else every scene would be a mess of screwed up faces and scowls and groans and sneers and furrowed brows.)

Personally I dislike adverbs in writing, to me they are a lazy option. English has the biggest vocabulary of any language in the world, why choose to limit yourself to only part of it?

"Asked rather testily" to me is unweildy and risks pushing the reader out of the flow of the story. As soon as they start looking at what you have written instead of just losing themselves in the tale you are telling you risk them putting down the book and not picking it up again.

Pick a more appropriate verb and drop the adverb. On a purely economical level "he snapped" is half the length of "he asked rather testily".

J

Dawnstorm
March 12th, 2007, 03:15 AM
What you must realise is that, in writing, you can't show one thing without telling another. For the line to be even meaningful, you have to ask: "show what?", "tell what?"

It's interesting to see the different takes on the line by Rusty and Ward. Rusty operates on the phrase level (contrasting sensual and conceptual content), and Ward's talking about the compository level (scene vs. exposition).

In "asked testily", you're telling us he's testy, but you're showing us his reaction to Nikita. It's all a matter of scale, really.

"Show, don't tell," could be rendered as: "If you talk about an elephant, don't use the word 'elephant'." That's sometimes good advise, and sometimes plain silly.

"Show, don't tell," is way too vague to be helpful in critiques, IMO. It may draw your attention to a range of writing methodologies, which is the only reason I hestitate to tell you to ignore it.

Tony Williams
March 12th, 2007, 04:33 AM
An interesting debate! I think that there's a fine line here between telling and showing, or (in contradiction) perhaps more a grey area between them.

In the example given, there could have been three ways of conveying the information that Anthorn had been wounded:

1. Writing a previous fight scene in which this happens (definitely "showing").

2. Anthorn commenting that it had happened (as you have done).

3. A narrator stating that it had happened (definitely "telling").

Incidentally, just because somehing is included in dialogue rather than narrative its doesn't mean that it isn't "telling". SF is rather notorious for using "infodumps" (= telling) in the form of characters saying "As you know, Bob..."

Also incidentally (I seem to be very incidental this morning; it might be the weather :confused: ) the extent to which you need to "tell" rather than "show" does depend on the POV (point of view) you have chosen for the story. If you write in the first person, then all you can "show" is what the PC (principal character) personally experiences. So if anything important happens away from the PC, you have to find some means of conveying the news - "telling". I came across this problem in my latest novel, 'Scales', and solved it by such devices as including news reports for the PC to read.

KatG
March 12th, 2007, 01:17 PM
We've had numerous debates on this, which you can look up in the archives. There are, as you can see here, numerous definitions of what "show" and "tell" constitute, whether adverbs are just another language tool or evil demons, and so on -- none of which you have to follow. It's your decision for your story.

BrianC
March 12th, 2007, 03:10 PM
Kat's right. There are no hard and fast rules for this sort of thing, but here's my opinion:

Anthorn, keep in mind two things: first, what you don't say in a story is as significant as what you do; second, what the reader can imagine is always better than what you can describe. In short, I mean that narration and explication -- in my opinion -- should be the minimal necessary to suggest to the reader what is going on, what the characters are doing, what they look like, etc. Here's what I mean in a concrete sense, using your excerpt as an example:


Anthorn woke, startled by the shifting of weight on the edge of the cot and again by Nikita's smiling face looming over him. "What do you want?" he groaned, propping up on his elbows and winching from the strain on the bandages covering his back.
"How do you feel?"
He shrugged and eased back down onto his stomach. "How do you think I feel? That jerk drew his sword across my back."

Why did I make these changes? I rearranged some parts that were convoluted, reworded some bits that seemed to be telling, and deleted some words that seemed extraneous (based on a few assumptions) and/or out of place. For example, I assume that the reader knows that Anthorn and Nikita are friends; even if not that is telling. Back injury = not flopping down and not lying on the back. Nikita's question now sync's with Anthorn's reply. In short, again in my opinion, you should aim to give the readers what they need to imagine the scene for themselves. Detail, like Nikita's smile, Anthorn's groaning and easing, etc., provide the frame for the picture that you want the reader to draw.

KatG
March 13th, 2007, 02:16 PM
second, what the reader can imagine is always better than what you can describe. In short, I mean that narration and explication -- in my opinion -- should be the minimal necessary to suggest to the reader what is going on, what the characters are doing, what they look like, etc.

Nope. What Brian is talking about is a style of fiction writing, which for lack of a definite official name I've been calling minimalist. (Perhaps post-modern would be accurate -- I'm not up on all the academic terms.) It uses minimal exposition and minimal description, with an emphasis on dialogue. It can be a very effective style, though from the sample of Brian's fiction that I've seen, he does not actually use this style. :) It is a hard type of style to use in secondary world fantasy, or indeed any type of fantasy, but it can work well for contemporary fantasy and some types of science fiction, and I wouldn't rule it out for any type of story if that's your natural style, certainly.

But there are a lot of other styles. And there are a lot of uses for detailed description in certain situations, depending on what you are doing. And a lot of the time, what the reader can imagine turns out to be incorrect, whereupon learning this fact later on in your narrative, the reader becomes quite angry with you. Another factor is that written fiction lends itself to interior views -- point-of-view -- allowing writers to shape stories in all sorts of other directions not possible in other mediums. What you do with pov exposition -- whether you minimize it or build the entire tale around it -- depends on the type of writer you are and what you are trying to do in your story. How you describe things, what you focus on in description that you do, as well. Your choices create different atmospheres and emotional impacts.

Show and tell are not different things really, and how many scenes you have, how much description you have, etc., are all decisions you make. Different authors have made different decisions, which is why there are hundreds of different ways in which that bit of text you offered could be written, all valid and potentially interesting, including versions with dangling participles and the like.

BrianC
March 13th, 2007, 03:21 PM
No, I said what I meant, but perhaps not clearly. You seem to be focusing on the word 'minimal' when what I said was 'the minimal necessary' -- which will vary according to what you want to do, the style of your writing, and genre of the story, as you noted. A secondary world fantasy usually will require more description and explication than a contemporary fantasy, or even most science fiction. But that does not change my opinion that the most effective fiction writing leaves as much as possible to the imagination of the reader.