Come join me Sunday, July 30th!

Come join me Sunday, July 30th!
Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore- San Diego

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tell, Don't Show


Now, before some of you start yelling at me for getting it backwards, that it is show, don’t tell, let me explain where I’m coming from.  And yes, I meant it as the title says.

As writers there are few “rules” more powerful than show, don’t tell.  From the first moment we crack open a writing book, we are taught, informed, cajoled, ridiculed, and even bullied to SHOW what is going on in our books.  Never tell.  Telling bad.  For such an offense a good smack on the nose and an hour in the corner is often prescribed.

I say that’s not always the case. And many times writing can suffer if someone worships at the house of Show, Don’t Tell too deeply.

There are always going to be times where telling is preferred to showing.  One of which is when the action doesn’t need to be shown.  TV is easier to see for examples- so I’m going to use one from White Collar. Our hero Neil and his sidekick are driving along when the sidekick sees someone he needs to chase.  We see Neil and sidekick running a red light in pursuit.  Then the scene changes to the FBI buddy answering a phone, and going down to find the cops have caught sidekick after running five red lights. And we’re told he did that.

Now, did we need to see all five lights being run?  No, there was one, with witty banter, and it was enough.  The same could be said for writing, we don’t always need to see what happened, especially if there are multiple viewpoints, or it makes for a stronger story to end the scene- then cut to a new scene where the character wraps up the repetitive action.  The telling actually makes the scene stronger.

Another time telling is better than showing is when it’s an action the average reader has done before. I’ve been a judge in various writing contests for a few years, and I often see this in the “younger” manuscripts.  A step by step paragraph of the character getting to, unlocking, getting in to, and starting their car.  Including shifting gears.  Sometimes these chunks last more than one paragraph.  Those authors may be proud they are showing us what happened, but it’s boring, wordy, and slows your pace.  A simple, “She went to her car and drove to the store.” Gets it across.  Unless there is something new and unique about the action, you don’t need to show it to us.  TELL us. 

I view the telling times as a point where the author is saying, “Ok, this isn’t crucial, but it is what happened.  I’m telling you so you know, but what I really want you to focus on is THIS!”  (This being the good stuff that is new, exciting, and moves the character arc and plot forward.)

We all need to be aware of times in our writing where we don’t need to show, where telling might work faster and cleaner to get the job done.

 


 

14 comments:

  1. Hallelujah, Sista! You're absolutely right. And I'm so pleased you put 'Rules' like that. They're guidelines, to be carefully considered, and ignored if they don't work.

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    1. Thank you, Greta :). Very well put, sometimes they guide us towards better writing-- other times they can lead us off a cliff.

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  2. I SECOND THAT - Someone finally said it besides me. Coming from a long line of story tellers I strongly believe there are times to tell and of course times to show. Thanks for posting. This was one of the best blogs I've read in a long time.

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    1. Thank you very much, Virginia! If enough of us say it, maybe folks will eventually believe it.

      I'm glad you enjoyed the blog post. Thank you for coming by and commenting

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  3. You are telling it like it is, girl. No pictures needed. Many an hour has been wasted by strict followers of Show while walking the walk down the broad, meandering and picturesque Show Me Avenue.

    As Inigo Montoya said, "Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."

    Great post.
    Sharon

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    1. LOL!!! Anytime a line from the Princess Bride can be used, it's a good thing ;).

      Thank you, Sharon, I like the image of the Show folks meandering :).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting.

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  4. So true. Read a couple of GH entries today and they both suffered from showing-unimportant-details disease. Seriously slowed the pace.

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    1. LOL! Maybe there should be a warning out there about this dreadful disease. "Do you find yourself describing EVERYTHING your charactor does? You may have SUD! Seek professional assistance immediately!"
      I like it :)

      Thanks for coming by and commenting, Shoshana!

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  5. Amen! There are times when telling IS better than showing. When reading all those classics, well-loved children books for our childhood and so on, the authors DO tell and the books are still good/great. I think it's like everything else -- all in good proportion :)

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    1. Very true, T! I think even modern books have far more telling than the writing gurus would deem proper ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  6. YES! It's about time someone said this. Thanks, Marie!

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    1. LOL! Glad I could be of service, Juli :). I think we all need to chase the "thou shall nots" out of writing. Understand what works, understand when not to follow that concept off a cliff ;).

      Thanks for coming by and commenting!

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  7. Yes! I'm always heartened when I see a post about Telling being okay, as long as you do it in moderation. Most of the books I enjoy have lots of telling and it's difficult for me to take it out of my writing.

    James Scott Bell suggests assigning your sentences a value of 1 to 10, with 1 being deadly dull (and probably shouldn't be in the book) and 10 being over the top exciting. Anything assigned 5 or less should just be told or you're wasting the reader's time.

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    1. :) Glad I could help, Ken! I love James Scott Bell- and that is a great bit of info with the sentance value.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Marie- at work- can't log on to blogger :(

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