Wednesday, May 16, 2012

And then......

Sometimes, I feel like I'm constantly telling.

There might be times when telling is better than
showing... **

We're always taught to show, not tell.  And, having been a self-proclaimed writer for approximately one year now, as well as loving the art my entire life... I should probably have learned my lesson by now.

But of course, I haven't.

Otherwise, I wouldn't be telling you about it.

One way to figure out if I'm starting to tell more than show, is to look for simple verbs that are alone.  Verbs like 'smiled' or 'scowled'.  True, these words show to a certain degree, but they could be expanded upon.  There are many different types of smiles.

How did he/she smile?  Was his face stern at first, yet as the moment sunk in did his lips gently curl into a grin?  Or did her weary eyes meet yours as she shook her head, a pleading smile lifting the corners of her mouth?

See, these are the things I have so much trouble with.

And when you've used 'smiled' alone, exactly 156 times throughout your MS (yeah, that would be me)... it really becomes a telling word.

Another word that usually means you're telling is when you see 'and then'.  Luckily, 'and then' is a phrase I can usually avoid, but I thought I'd bring it up since it's the title of the post.

Do you guys find yourself telling a lot?  Or, at least, do you think you tell a lot?

**Times when telling is better than showing: EXAMPLE:  If you've got a giant cut on your arm, and you're bleeding more than just a little bit, I'd much rather you call and tell me about it from the hospital instead of showing me.  (I get queasy around blood.)

Have a wonderful day!



Stephanie said...

Ah, the tell vs show debate. I think telling vs showing is one of the hardest concepts to grasp in writing, not in the least because everyone has a slightly different opinion on what telling is, and what showing is.

Callie Leuck said...

I've got another tell>show example -- I wrote out some pretty dramatic scenes in the backstory of the characters I'm working on now. But the only way to include these scenes would be as a prologue with a pretty epic time-jump at the end or as flashbacks. I'm not a fan of the flashback, and I've been no-no'ed on prologues. So my new idea is to have one character tell part of the story and another character to remember her perspective on it. I think that might turn out to be less awkward than me actually "showing" that scene in full.

Your "smiled" problem reminds me of the old "said" dilemma. Some people prefer tags like those to be left simple and are distracted by excess description. I on the other hand prefer to vary those words: whispered, snapped, mused, demanded, ordered, wondered, questioned, etc.

Krista McLaughlin said...

I get queasy at the sight of blood too. Yuk.

It's really hard to show and not tell. As humans we tend to tell stories to each other, but when we write we need to show stories and it's hard to do. I learned about this in my creative writing class and it is definitely something I work on. I only used smile 55 times... still too many, but whew! :)

Angela Brown said...

Your "better to tell than show" moment is priceless. But I concur.

I have a hard time finding when I'm doing more telling than showing. I appreciate beta readers for their patience and honesty with me to share these things with me when they see them.

Susan Kane said...

It is constantly amazing to me that I violate this rule of writing. Esp. after teaching it for 20 years!

Jess said...

Stephanie~ That's my other problem. Everyone has a different opinion, and I'm never sure which one to follow!

Callie~ I know what you mean about Prologues/Flashbacks. Despite that, I couldn't get out of putting a prologue in From the Ashes. Oh well.

Krista~ Great job on only using 55! Better than what I've got :)

Angela~ Lol thanks :) And I know what you mean! Honest beta readers are the best!

Susan~ Yes, it's an easy rule to forget! And even if you remember, sometimes I can't tell when I'm showing or telling!

M Pax said...

When I catch emotions alone is a sign of telling. Then for awhile I was doing both, showing and telling. We keep learning & evolving. It's a wonderful thing.

Vicki Orians said...

In Jeff Gerke's book, THE FIRST 50 PAGES, he states that telling is SOMETIMES okay when it's pertinent to the story. It's never good to do story dumps (aka: when you tell us a character's whole back story in one paragraph), but if there's something we need to know at that very moment that you can't show or put in dialogue, it's okay to include. A lot of authors do this successfully. It is a tough concept to grasp, show vs. tell...

Jess said...

M~ That's a good way to look at it! Catching emotions alone... THANKS!

Vicki~ Yeah, I agree with that. And that's exactly what I used to do! Dump the whole back story on the first page, lol. Thanks for stopping by :)

Carrie-Anne said...

I've mostly read older books my whole life, so I'm used to a more telly style of writing, and directly telling the reader establishing information up-front instead of having to guess or waiting 5 chapters to learn it. My idea of truly bad telling is narrating important events after they've occurred instead of as they're unfolding, or using long passages to tell about events that could've easily been depicted as full scenes.

I'd honestly prefer to read a short and to the point passage like "He was scared" or "She was nervous" than wade through 30 words telling me the exact same thing through body language or reactions. I understand why it's important to convey some things more subtly, but it really feels like some writers today ONLY want to show and never directly tell the reader anything.

I also think it lets you use your imagination more when you're directly told something, like that it's cold or a character said something nervously. You can fill in the blanks in your mind and bring your own interpretation instead of having everything exactly spelt out for you.

Leslie Rose said...

This is one of the biggest issues I find myself fixing in revisions. Ack!

McKenzie McCann said...

I think a fabulous writer needs to know how to pull both off. It's possible to show poorly, and it's possible to tell well. The key is using both to your advantage.

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