January 30th, 2006, 02:56 PM
"You're telling, not showing" is, if it isn't supported by examples, probably the most useless bit of critique to give.
Because most authors think they ARE showing. They won't understand what you mean if you don't show them with two or three practical examples.
And btw, if you don't give those as a critic, then you too are telling, not showing.
Sorry, just one of my pet peeves.
It's something I see an awful lot in critiques.
January 30th, 2006, 04:12 PM
Just Another Philistine
Hey, onions, does that mean your post is useless?
I think you can expand that to almost every critiqal remark made. For example, I received this crit: "However, it seems that not enough happens in this little tale (While in contrast, the Old Woman's tale covers many lifetimes and centuries)." I thought enough had happened; that's why I thought the story was completed. What good is this crit in helping me decide how to fix the apparent problem? I think it's a valid crit all by itself but is it helpful? Isn't it better when the critter adds: "It may be good to show a little more of his falling in love with this woman." Okay, now I can understand the point he is after and know - if I agree - what I am supposed to do.
Later on, this critter wrote: "The conclusion of your story makes, unfortunately, only passing mention of a series of lifetimes that bring her all the way from the mid twentieth century to this era of spaceships, presumably several hundred years later. After her glossing over those centuries, she seems to imply that Hank is still with her, though he can't be
seen. And then she chastises her listeners for not believing her. Well, why should they? Or why should we?" Again, a valid crit. But what am I supposed to do with it? Re-write the story? Delete that passage? The critter didn't leave me hanging: "I would have like to have heard her attempt to convince them (and me) how this is possible. But instead she cops out with 'You are all going to look at this fragile old woman and believe senility rules, my mind has gone, and I'm living on dreams.'" Okay, I can see where he's coming from and can decide how to help my readers understand.
Like you, I've seen too many crits that catalogue the problems with editing cliches and offer no real help at all understanding the problem. It is a real joy and godsend when a critter takes time to explain his impressions.
January 31st, 2006, 12:35 AM
*laughs* I remember being told the "show don't tell" thing in middle school and upwards. I didn't figure out until after high school while studying my own writing, figuring out why it was too difficult to 'feel' what was going on. It was like reading a documentary instead of living the story.
January 31st, 2006, 11:12 AM
I posted the prologue of my first novel on critters.org (10 long years ago when I was only 16). Everyone told me to 'show not tell', it wasn't until someone said "why don't you show it from the perspective of the starship captain?" that I got it.
The by-product was that I cut out a lot of information that in the initial draft I thought was important (and was important to me) but I couldn't fit into the story from the different perspective, and I ended up realising that the reader wouldn't really care about it anyway.
Ever since I always write a 'tell' version first, as I find it easier to pour out information onto the page (sometimes in mind-numbing detail). Then I can look at that event (which, being told, is from an outside perspective) and I can see the best way to 'show' it, and what information is relevant.
January 31st, 2006, 01:01 PM
The "show, don't tell" rule is violated all the time by published writers, just about as much as they violate the "adverbs are bad" rule. The problem is that with all rules of thumb, they are overbroad. It is perfectly acceptable to tell and to use adverbs, but in some situations it is better not to because the alternative makes the story better. The other problem is that the amateur critic doesn't understand that they are rules of thumb and not categorical prohibitions, and as a result, any instance of telling or appearance of an adverb causes an internal klaxon to sound.
January 31st, 2006, 02:44 PM
Generally the 'show, don't tell' rule comes into play with feelings. Don't tell us what they're feeling, show us what they're feeling.
But when it comes to some events, background information, or just stuff that's important but really doesn't need an entire chapter dedicated to it when it can be summed up in a sentence, sometimes telling works best.
Not always, but I suppose that's why you have to know the rules before you can break them.
It's a good rule of thumb for beginners. But once you hit even intermediate it's unnecessary to stick with those kinds of general rules.
January 31st, 2006, 02:52 PM
I think it's very amusing that this thread is already six posts long, and nobody has ridiculed me yet for messing up it's title...
Or maybe y'all are just exceptionally kind to me?
Aw, shucks. Thanks, guys...
January 31st, 2006, 03:28 PM
Edited for submission
I thought you were "punning" the subject
Originally Posted by onions
As to the subject, for me telling not showing means using the characters and the action to tell the story not "telling" as in saying then the hero did such and such, then this happened. It's all a matter of pace and timing your info dumps, which a lot of the telling usually is.
January 31st, 2006, 04:47 PM
Often writers will try to give some background material up front - and that's ok, as long as the information's immediately useful. But sometimes I wind up with an encyclopedia entry that gives me too much information, stuff I could have easily learned during the course of the story.
For example - I'm told right up front that the character's lost hope, is suicidal and lashing out violently. She's a college drop out who had to travel to another city to attend college because there's no schools in the new city.
So how to show it?
There was a free barstool next to the wall. I pushed my way through and sat down gratefully - and froze when the bartender turned.
"Jenny! Hey, haven't seen you since Freshman English," he grinned, wiggling his bushy eyebrows. "What'll you have?"
"Scotch and cola."
"Coming right up!"
I watched his back as he hunted for the scotch. We'd talked on the train for a while, until I got into one of the dorms. Soon after that, he stopped coming to class.
"You been here long?" I asked, leaning close as he brought me my drink.
"Nine months... what happened?"
He grabbed my left wrist and turned it over, staring at the scars going across.
"I... had an accident," I managed, looking away.
"Before or after you dropped out?"
"What was I going to do with a college degree here?" I demanded. "Mop up someone's spilled drink with it?"
"Jenny," he said, letting go of my wrist, "I heard about your sister...."
My blood curdled. I grabbed my bag and slipped off the stool, heading through the crowd for the door.
"Jenny!" Wayne called out. "Jenny, come back! You forgot...."
Which did you like more?
Last edited by Expendable; January 31st, 2006 at 04:51 PM.
January 31st, 2006, 05:07 PM
Fairy tales are often "told", in the relevant sentence of the word. The princess is beautiful. The king is sad. The hero is afraid. The dragon is terrible.
Take a fairy tale and a couple of writers, then instruct them to turn all the "telling" into "showing". You'll have five different short stories.
Telling, if well done, leaves more room for imagination. Showing, on the other hand, leaves more room for interpretation. Or, metaphorically put, telling will inspire painters, showing will inspire philosophers.
January 31st, 2006, 10:47 PM
Originally Posted by Expendable
Was there another version of this?
I would suggest one thing. Don't use contractions in non dialogue;
"I watched his back as he hunted for the scotch. We'd talked on the train for a while, until I got into one of the dorms. Soon after that, he stopped coming to class."
Yes it is being told in the first person, but still I would avoid it outside of dialogue.
Other than that, its a good thing. Introduces two characters, gives us some interaction and through that very natural interaction we get a view of the characters lives.
January 31st, 2006, 11:01 PM
I strongly disagree in regards to not using contractions outside of dialogue: first person narrative is all about the voice of the character, who also happens to be the narrator, and contractions, slang, and other idiosyncracies should be used if they are appropriate to the character. I'd go further and suggest that contractions can and should be used in some thrid person stories as well, where the tone of the piece dictates (generally when the tone of the piece is intended to reflect the personality of the POV character without neccessarily being told by that character.) If the story aims to cultivate a conversational tone then contractions definitely belong.
February 1st, 2006, 12:43 AM
Edited for submission
Originally Posted by Ward
Agree. 1st is all about tone and feel, you are in the skin of the narrator. Third it is these days, mostly a style choice by the writer more than anything.
Last edited by Holbrook; February 1st, 2006 at 04:15 AM.
February 1st, 2006, 04:14 AM
I just want to say that I agree with "show, don't tell" on principle.
I just mean that the sentence itself is not useful without...well, SHOWING by example how the writer has erred.
February 1st, 2006, 09:54 AM
Beginning and experienced writers both show and tell, and mostly tell. Telling includes such things as character pov, expository information, and imagery such as metaphor and simile. Showing consists of sensory description, such as: "The chair was red."
If a critiquer tells you that you are telling and need to show, then she has a limited conscious knowledge of the components of narrative, though she may have an intuitive one. In such a case, don't ask the critiquer to tell you where or how you need to show, since that's unlikely to be particularly helpful. Instead, ask the critiquer to tell you where and how she thinks you are telling, preferrably specific examples. This is easier for the critiquer to do, and gives you a much better chance of identifying potential problem areas.