Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Showing and Telling -- ARGGGGGGGHHHHH!

I’ve been thinking about showing vs. telling a lot this week, mostly due to a pairof blog posts by Janice Hardy  and Jami Gold. Janice wrote a nice post describing the differences between telling and showing, including several “before” and “after” versions of the same passage. Good information, and I suggest you stop by and read it. However, some of the “before” passages, the ones with more telling, sounded pretty darn good to me.  And it would never have occurred to me that they required fixing. Was I clueless or what? After some back and forth comments, we agreed that the "before" versions weren’t all that bad. Janice was just demonstrating how to make the wording even better.

Still, I wonder if I’m ever going to grasp the concept of showing in any meaningful way. I understand the basics – don’t tell us character emotions, show us through their actions. Don’t tell us their motivations, let us figure it out based on what you have the character do. I get that. But anything more subtle than that? Forget about it. I can’t see it. And even when someone else points out my sentences are telling, I’m often at a loss as to how to fix it – at least without turning my sentences into a wallowing, stinking mess.

Sigh….

I suspect part of my problem stems from my personality. I’ve always been a “just the facts, ma’am” kind of guy. Tell the reader what’s happening and get on with the story already. And to be honest, I find books that have a fair amount of telling to be much more readable. Too much showing often leaves me with the impression the writer is either trying to pad his word count or trying to avoid telling me what’s going on—like a politician giving a speech—hinting at what’s happening instead of coming right out and telling us in plain speech.

Maybe that’s why I’m not published yet. Well, that and the fact that I haven’t finished my book.

What we need are some good books dedicated to the art of showing.


P.S. My 3 month old silver Ford Focus was side-swiped this morning by a driver pulling out of a fast food parking lot without looking. I am sad. (Hmmm… I guess that’s telling, isn’t it?)


9 comments:

  1. Oh no! Not your new car!
    :(

    Showing is good, but I think people carry the issue too far at times. (Note: That's a general statement. I didn't read the articles in question.) If a line works, it works. And sometimes a bit of telling is good. I've read passages where the actions described were unclear as to the emotion, and the dialogue didn't help.

    *shrugs* The key to most things in fiction is moderation.
    And beta readers. *grin*

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    1. My problem is that I still haven't found that medium between too little and too much showing. And I don't even know if there is a right answer.

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  2. I'm sad for you new car. That happened to mine, too, when it was new.

    Show vs. tell takes time to figure it out. You will, though. I just learned about showing the whole know/realize/ etc... stuff. So, we all keep learning.

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    1. I remember when I first read about filter words like know/ realize/ etc. The article didn't say anything about them being telling, just that they distanced the reader. It was only later that I saw them connected with telling. Seems like every month I learn another form of telling. It will never end!

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  3. Sorry about the accident!
    I'm a just the facts kind of guy as well. I'm finally grasping the difference between telling and showing, but it hasn't been easy. Jessica Bell has a book with examples that really set of the lightbulb for me.

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    1. I mentioned her book back in November (http://hogwartssabbatical.blogspot.com/2012/11/showing-and-telling-in-nutshell.html) and it's not bad. I just wish her "before" examples would have been fleshed out a bit more.

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  4. I recently went through my ms with my agent, and in great detail about changing it from telling to showing. It was difficult. Like don't say she stuttered, just show it.Don't say your protagonist is nervous, show it by wringing their hands, drumming fingers on the table. I've been working hard to try to show instead of tell, then I received a review that said I wasn't telling enough---Huh?

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    1. I'm not surprised by that. Every time I come across a post mentioning that you don't always have to show, there's always at least one commenter who mentions a book they read that did too much showing, making the book a slog to read through.

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  5. Oh, no. Not the car! That happened to me with my newish Hyundai Tucson, and in spite of the supposedly complete repairs, it's suffering aftereffects. Bald tires at 25000 miles from misalignment, frequenctly breaking A/C, and then my power steering busted.

    Oops, that was all telling too. From what I hear, telling is fine to transition between sections. But if you ask me, telling is fine to make the reader understand the mc's emotions too. They're supposed to be in his or her head. But not in another person's. That I always want to show. Even that's personal preference.

    That was my 10 minute break from moving sale preparations.

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