Hatrack River
Home   |   About Orson Scott Card   |   News & Reviews   |   OSC Library   |   Forums   |   Contact   |   Links
Research Area   |   Writing Lessons   |   Writers Workshops   |   OSC at SVU   |   Calendar   |   Store
E-mail this page
Hatrack River Writers Workshop Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Too much tell and no show?

   
Author Topic: Too much tell and no show?
Alias
Member
Member # 1645

 - posted      Profile for Alias           Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
There is a common problem with a writer not being able to pull the reader into the world and instead they see it as being far more flat and it has a far smaller impact upon them.

Often associated with
"Too much Telling and not enough Showing"

Adding detail can help to "paint the picture" but too much detail can severely interrupt the flow of the story. Not to mention unnecessaryd etail can bore the reader.

I believe that some how a very good solid orientation needs to be made, somehow.

What techniques do you use to avoid the problem or to rectify it?


Posts: 295 | Registered: May 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Lord Darkstorm
Member
Member # 1610

 - posted      Profile for Lord Darkstorm   Email Lord Darkstorm         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
In a nice little book on description I read recently, it said that some telling is good. I think a nice mix of the two works pretty well.


Posts: 807 | Registered: Mar 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Jules
Member
Member # 1658

 - posted      Profile for Jules   Email Jules         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I've heard it said a lot: the advice "show, don't tell" is responsible for a large number of very cliche stories which are painful to read because _everything_ is shown in them.

Frequently, telling is the best way of doing something.

But it is hard to know when to tell the reader things... I think only really if you can tell them in a way that makes the story more interesting.

If you find a long passage that shows off some important aspect of your universe, but otherwise is not very interesting, maybe it is better just to cut it and find a subtle way of telling the reader this information?


Posts: 626 | Registered: Jun 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Lord Darkstorm
Member
Member # 1610

 - posted      Profile for Lord Darkstorm   Email Lord Darkstorm         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
So far from what I've discovered is that keeping the 'telling' down to smaller peices seems to work. So throwing in something that tells, one or two sentances, still keeps the flow but adds usefull information.

I doubt I would actually use long paragraphs of telling since it can bore the reader quickly. But if you take the long paragraph and sync in pieces as you show what is going on then the reader still gets it all, just spread out.

So as long as you don't slow down the story a line or two can be not only informative but be interesting too.


Posts: 807 | Registered: Mar 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Maccabeus
Member
Member # 1369

 - posted      Profile for Maccabeus   Email Maccabeus         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
It seems to me that the "show, don't tell" advice is primarily directed at writers who are prone to summarize important events into flat statements--as though a sports announcer were to simply say, "Looks like the Cubs win this one" and leave it at that. Other writers, though, hear this and attempt to show too much. They bog the story down in irrelevant detail.

Show the things that are critical to involving the reader. Tell the rest.


Posts: 55 | Registered: Feb 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
Kolona
Member
Member # 1438

 - posted      Profile for Kolona   Email Kolona         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Best advice is to take a small chunk of time sitting in a library to peruse books by
different authors and see how they handled the show v tell problem.

There are some tricks of the trade I've noticed. For instance, which of the following is livelier, has better flow and is more intriguing:

Kate’s old treehouse was a run-down platform of boards. The fourth step up was broken, so you had to be careful climbing the ladder. The treehouse was nice and shady, though, because the dense canopy of leaves around it let no direct light in. The old low beach chair there no longer fit Kate very well, now that she was twelve. She had a crush on Tom, who sat on the treehouse floor across from her, his hair almost golden. She heard someone climbing up, and Sissy Fedor appeared at the top of the stairs with a bag of chips.

Kate had a crush on Tom. He had a full head of almost golden hair that she loved, and here he was, sitting across from her. They were in her old treehouse, a simple platform of boards, where a canopy of leaves blocked all the direct sunlight. The treehouse had been hers since she was small, and was a little run down. The fourth rung of the ladder was broken, so you had to be careful climbing it, and Kate no longer fit well into the low beach chair she had used as a child. She heard someone coming up the ladder, and a hand with a bag of chips appeared, followed by Sissy Fedor.

Kate knew Tom's full head of hair would have glistened golden in the sunlight, but the dense leaf canopy around her childhood treehouse allowed no direct light to penetrate to the run-down platform of old boards. She heard someone coming up the ladder, heard the stumble at the broken fourth rung, and a hand with a bag of chips appeared, followed by Sissy Fedor. Kate sank back into the low beach chair that was getting a little snug now that she was twelve. Sissy Fedor made her feel just as cramped.

The first version sets the stage before anything happens, the second works at least some of the showing into the telling, but the third trumps them both by ditching the boring set-up and limiting weak verbs.


[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited August 01, 2003).]

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited August 01, 2003).]


Posts: 1807 | Registered: Jun 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
Lord Darkstorm
Member
Member # 1610

 - posted      Profile for Lord Darkstorm   Email Lord Darkstorm         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
And the third one is the best.

Although the description in the first was nice, and could work for the right situation.

For that matter the second one has potential also.

Nice, very nice.

Excellent example.


Posts: 807 | Registered: Mar 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Kolona
Member
Member # 1438

 - posted      Profile for Kolona   Email Kolona         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thanks, Lord Darkstorm, although I see I messed up a bit. I left out the crush thing in the third example. (I had an appointment and thought I had a little time to dawdle, but I ended up rushing it. Mea culpa.) How about:

Kate felt the delicious sad weight of her crush on Tom as he sat across from her in her childhood treehouse. She knew his full head of hair would've glistened golden in the sunlight, but the dense leaf canopy around them allowed no direct light to penetrate to the run-down platform of boards nailed to the old oak. She heard someone coming up the ladder, heard the stumble at the broken fourth rung, and a hand with a bag of chips appeared, followed by Sissy Fedor. Kate sank back into the low beach chair that was getting a little snug now that she was twelve. Sissy Fedor made her feel just as cramped.

(Okay, a little editing, too.)

These were only short examples so you don't have to wait too long before something happens even in the first two, but often writers have paragraphs, even pages, of description before anything happens. Even if it's well-written description, sparse with weak verbs and eloquent with rhapsodic phraseology, the fact is most modern readers aren't as patient as readers used to be.

Best advice: Cut to the chase. Sometimes literally.

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited August 01, 2003).]


Posts: 1807 | Registered: Jun 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
Survivor
Member
Member # 213

 - posted      Profile for Survivor   Email Survivor         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
You might also notice that the third passage was the best written of the three in terms of expressing the POV of the character. You might also notice that all the improvements in her last version come from playing up the character POV, exploring her immediate feelings and reactions to the events unfolding.

Frankly, as far as I've been able to determine, "show don't tell" actually should mean "write in POV".


Posts: 8322 | Registered: Aug 1999  | Report this post to a Moderator
Lord Darkstorm
Member
Member # 1610

 - posted      Profile for Lord Darkstorm   Email Lord Darkstorm         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Now for the big question. How do those of us who ignored english in high school, or learned just enough to get by, now learn it? Are there any really good books that help explain all the grammer and how its used that isn't just plain boring?

I have a small book on grammer which I am forcing myself to go through, but quite honestly, it is more a reference book. Its examples are week and few and it very quickly gets into just giving allot of lists.

So far I get by on the 15+ years of reading I've done and have a half decent feel for making things work. Well, and Word's grammer checker helps with my fragmented sentences. But I'm at a point I want to learn so I'm not scratching my head wondering why one paragraph looks good and another doesn't.


Posts: 807 | Registered: Mar 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Rahl22
Member
Member # 1411

 - posted      Profile for Rahl22   Email Rahl22         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
First of all, it's "grammAr"

Shawn suggested "Gammar for Dummies". As for me, I think a combination of college comm classes as well as reading religiously has taken care of all but the most arcane grammar rules.


Posts: 1621 | Registered: Apr 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
Jules
Member
Member # 1658

 - posted      Profile for Jules   Email Jules         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
How good is word's grammar checker these days?

I don't have a version to play around with at the moment, but last time I did (a _long_ while ago) it confused a lot of past tense sentences (particularly if they used participles) with passive, which rendered it pretty much useless for me... my main problem is that I write a lot of nasty passive sentences that I often don't pick up on :-)

Back to the subject: I definitely see survivor's point. A lot of bad writers slip into omniscient POV to summarise events (hey, I've been guilty of it myself in the past!), when it is probably best if these events are seen through the eyes of a POV character - if they absolutely have to be summarised rather than seen (eg because it would be really boring otherwise) then they can be reported to the POV character by another one, or if directly witnessed by the POV character summarised in that character's inner voice.

I'll just throw a couple of scenes together to see if I have this straight...


There were screams outside. Jeff glanced at Sarah. "Can you see what's going on outside?" he asked her.

Sarah went to the door and stepped through it.

Outside the world had suddenly gone dark: a huge shadow was moving across the land around them - the battle fleet had arrived.

Compared with:


There were screams outside. Jeff glanced at Sarah. "Can you see what's going on outside?" he asked her.

Sarah went to the door and stepped through it. It was only a few minutes before she returned.

"It's dark out there," she said. "There's a huge shadow all around us, blocking out the sun."

Jeff nodded silently in comprehension. The battle fleet had arrived.

That's the kind of thing you're talking about isn't it? The first one slips out of Jeff's POV to tell the reader what's happening; the second sticks with it, and by virtue of this is also able to show a little bit about Jeff's reaction to the news.


Posts: 626 | Registered: Jun 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Kolona
Member
Member # 1438

 - posted      Profile for Kolona   Email Kolona         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Lord Darkstorm, if you want a "Lively, Unintimidating Guide to Usage, Punctuation and Style," Pinckert's Practical Grammar is a good book. In fact, that quote is its subtitle. It's a writing book with a bit of an attitude. Here's a sample:

quote:
"Composition is putting things together, and is hard to teach. Grammar is taking them apart, and is easy to teach. Grammar goes on forever. Teaching it has always offered job security. The demand for grammar, like the demand for medical attention, is unlimited. Grammar is the perfect subject, since anyone can teach it and no one can master it. It is even being taught to a large number of apes, who have in fact been getting good marks. Though there are apparently no slow learners among these anthropoids, none has yet come up with a striking sentence, much less a good essay."

There is also at least one -- can't remember the name -- Internet site that will send a quick grammar lesson to you each day. You can probably find it by doing a net search on "grammar."

Jules, Word's grammar checker can indeed flag things that aren't incorrect -- as when it flags things like "its" simply to make you doublecheck that you used the right word (in this case whether you may have meant "it's")-- but that can be used as a learning tool. When Word flags something, see if you can defend your position, and research why you are right or wrong.

In your examples, you're on the right track. The sentence, "There were screams outside," though, could be taken both omnisciently or as Jeff's POV -- plus, it has a weak verb -- and if it begins a book or chapter, it would delay confirmation of the POV. Better to establish POV as soon as possible, maybe like, "Jeff heard the screams outside and glanced at Sarah." (Which, of course, could also be omniscient, but with the subsequent sentences would cement the POV by bringing the POV character to the forefront of the reader's mind by naming him at once. Averting another of Survivor's pet peeves, I believe. )

Being the nit-picker I am, I would advise caution with even the use of ordinary words. They can bite when you least expect it. Did Sarah actually step "through" the door, or did she go to the door and step out? Or maybe she stepped through the "doorway" whether or not there was an physical door in it. Context (if it's ghostly in nature, then Sarah did step through the door), or flow (which would be determined in the mind's ear -- or the actual ear by reading out loud, which is even better), or even personal preference might determine the word choice, but make sure each word does what it's expected to do.

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited August 03, 2003).]

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited August 03, 2003).]


Posts: 1807 | Registered: Jun 2002  | Report this post to a Moderator
Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
Administrator
Member # 59

 - posted      Profile for Kathleen Dalton Woodbury   Email Kathleen Dalton Woodbury         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Learning a second language is another way to study grammar. It certainly helped me a lot.
Posts: 8033 | Registered: A Long Time Ago!  | Report this post to a Moderator
EricJamesStone
Member
Member # 1681

 - posted      Profile for EricJamesStone   Email EricJamesStone         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Here's my philosophy on grammar in fiction.

The true purpose of grammar rules is clarity of communication.

Any grammar rule that interferes with clarity of communication may be disregarded at will. (Most such rules were forced onto the English language by grammarians who thought English should be more like Latin.)

For example, the rule that one should never end a sentence with a preposition leads to awkward phrasing. And it's fine to boldly split infinitives that no one has split before, as long as your meaning is clear.

I use sentence fragments in my fiction. A lot. Mainly because I like the way fragments allow me to control the pacing of the piece. I mostly use fragments in dialogue or when showing a person's thoughts. As long as I am communicating clearly, I don't see a problem with using fragments. (Editors may see it differently, of course.)

[This message has been edited by EricJamesStone (edited August 05, 2003).]


Posts: 1517 | Registered: Jul 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Jules
Member
Member # 1658

 - posted      Profile for Jules   Email Jules         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
As my English teacher back at school used to say, 'prepositions are not for ending sentences with.'

:-)


Posts: 626 | Registered: Jun 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Hatrack River Home Page

Copyright © 2008 Hatrack River Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.2