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Author Topic: Managing Show and Tell Mischiefs
wirelesslibrarian
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Not specifically about show and tell, but this post up now at Writer Unboxed has some points relevant to the discussion.

http://writerunboxed.com/2013/04/09/put-that-banjo-down/

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babooher
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In Media WTF! That's classy and classic! Thanks for the link wirelesslibrarian.
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MAP
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quote:
Originally posted by History:
I'm reminded of the father who bought his sons their first bicycles--not just any bicycles, but super Schwinn 5000s: tiger-painted argon welded steel frames, 10-speed gearing, stainless steel chains, spring-enforced leather saddle, with a kickstand, side mirror, carrier, and bell. He took all the pieces out of their cardboard boxes and expounded on the bikes' features over the course of hours while he built them. When he finished, he turned around and discovered the boys were gone. In the distance he heard children laughing. Walking behind his house, he discovered the boys and their friends joyfully riding the cardboard boxes down the hill.

History, I'm not sure if my post reminded you of this story, but if it did, I think you missed my point. I'm certainly not suggesting we cast aside bikes for boxes.

My point was that the posts should speak for themselves. If extrinsic's posts are useful to you, and you learn something from them, then it doesn't really matter if he is a published writer or not. If you discovered that he was Salinger back from the dead, that really doesn't change anything he's said.

Do we need everyone to list their credentials so we know who to listen to, or are we intelligent enough to consider the ideas being presented and determine if they are logical and reasonable and if they work for us?

If Schwinn bicycles are of high quality, than they are good bicycles with or without the name brand stamp. The ride should speak for itself.

[ April 10, 2013, 04:16 PM: Message edited by: MAP ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by History:
I'm reminded of the father who bought his sons their first bicycles... When he finished, he turned around and discovered the boys were gone. In the distance he heard children laughing. Walking behind his house, he discovered the boys and their friends joyfully riding the cardboard boxes down the hill.

Different strokes, I guess. when I was a kid parents would have handed me the box and I'd have spent joyful hours assembling then customizing the bicycle to my preferences. I'd have hacksawed off the seatpost to save weight, shortened and rerouted the cable housings, and mounted a clothespin to the fork (for holding a baseball card).

I have very early memories of the mechanisms around me. I remember how the tray on my high chair latched on; it used steel clips on the underside of the tray, which snapped into the chromed frame of the high chair (this was the 60s -- the chair was chrome and red vinyl). I remember the drop gate mechanism on my cradle; it ran on pair of steel rails attached to the frame with round head phillips screws. There were sliding springs on the rails that prevented the gate from coming to a crashing stop when lowered. I used to play with the springs; I discovered that by spinning them around the rail I could suspend them against gravity until the spinning slowed. I don't think it's normal to have such early memories.

Another early memory was disassembling and rebuilding my mother's camera. The spring on the shutter mechanism was tricky for little fingers. I needed a pair of locking forceps, which we didn't have. Oddly enough when I grew up I married a woman who has a similar childhood memory of an unauthorized rebuild of a mantle clock.

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extrinsic
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Show and tell must go on! Interesting that parts of the discussion have turned to show and tell: History's description of children's joys of bicycles and the boxes in which they came, descriptive show; MattLeo's recollections of childhood rivets and chrome, descriptive show.

More fascinating yet, though I'm flattered other parts of the discussion use my username and persona for personalizing and illustrating ethos principles, all pride aside, those discussions transcend my Hatrack persona and symbolically represent larger-than-life forces and writing principles through a kind of selected every-person identity association. Use of tangible, so to speak, personas to represent larger-than-life intangibles like, say, a large group that similarly or oppositionally identifies with ethos' principles and values is a magical writing show. Showing intangible personas through tangible personas is a noteworthy writing method based on the principle of personaliizing, personifying, and humanizing a circumstance. Exquisite.

[ April 10, 2013, 10:39 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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History
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quote:
Originally posted by MAP:
quote:
Originally posted by History:
I'm reminded of the father who bought his sons their first bicycles--not just any bicycles, but super Schwinn 5000s: tiger-painted argon welded steel frames, 10-speed gearing, stainless steel chains, spring-enforced leather saddle, with a kickstand, side mirror, carrier, and bell. He took all the pieces out of their cardboard boxes and expounded on the bikes' features over the course of hours while he built them. When he finished, he turned around and discovered the boys were gone. In the distance he heard children laughing. Walking behind his house, he discovered the boys and their friends joyfully riding the cardboard boxes down the hill.

History, I'm not sure if my post reminded you of this story, but if it did, I think you missed my point. I'm certainly not suggesting we cast aside bikes for boxes.

My point was that the posts should speak for themselves. If extrinsic's posts are useful to you, and you learn something from them, then it doesn't really matter if he is a published writer or not. If you discovered that he was Salinger back from the dead, that really doesn't change anything he's said.

Do we need everyone to list their credentials so we know who to listen to, or are we intelligent enough to consider the ideas being presented and determine if they are logical and reasonable and if they work for us?

If Schwinn bicycles are of high quality, than they are good bicycles with or without the name brand stamp. The ride should speak for itself.

Hi, MAP,

Per usual, people see what they will see in what I write--and not necessarily what I intend (if I fully know what I intend). [Wink]
That is, perhaps, the way it should be.

I concur with you, but only to a point.
Evidence-based claims is essential, and not only within my own medical profession. In this case, they need not be any particular author's (or Hatrack poster's), but without evidence, we are left with only hearsay.

Respectfully,
Dr. Bob

P.S. What my little parable means to me: The deconstruction of the craft of writing runs the risk of extracting the fun and magic out of it.

Or: Instead of dissecting what to do (or should do), I prefer just to do.

Or: I prefer the "show" over the "tell." [Smile]

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MattLeo
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Extrinsic -- may I suggest we find some way to structure this inquiry into the matter of show vs. tell? I feel this is a fruitful topic, but one which evidently has a lot of detours into other topics (e.g., my bicycle induced flashback to my childhood).

Perhaps we should start by listing questions or ideas we have about showing and telling. I'll throw out a few questions.

(1) Is "telling" always bad? Are there times when you should tell rather than show?

(2) Given that all writing is in a literal sense, "telling", is showing something that has degrees (more showing or less showing), and is there an optimal degree of showing to do?

(3) How does showing affect reader perceptions of pacing? Does more showing feel faster or slower, or either depending on context?

(4) What aspects of the story are subject to the "show not tell" rule, and are there special concerns in handling each of those things (e.g. plot, setting, character, theme, backstory)?

As I said, I have some tentative opinions about these matters. For example I believe there are times when more showing is quite bad for a story. There's a certain kind of scene that I often run across in which one or more characters travel from point A to point B. There is no point to the scene other than to *show* the process of the characters starting at A and ending up at B. Since nothing significant happens in these scenes, they tend to attract narrative clutter. "As you know, Bob" dialog flourishes in them, although not necessarily so poorly disguised.

Usually a story benefits greatly by cutting these travel scenes, so much so that two characters getting in the car is a critique red flag for me. But on the other extreme you have the quest story which is nothing *but* colorful scenes filling up the space between A and B. You could reduce much of Lord of the Rings to this: "after many adventures, Frodo and Sam arrive at the foot of Mount Doom." Very few scenes in Lord of the Rings are actually necessary to move the plot forward.

So is there some kind of untenable middle ground between "after many adventures, Frodo and Sam arrive at Mount Doom" and the whole three volume enchilada?

Oh, and Dr. Bob -- sufficiently advanced technique is indistinguishable from magic.

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KellyTharp
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I like your ideas, Matt. Though I tend to agree with your Lord of the Rings comparison, but only the movie version. The books were mostly filled with tons of lineages . . . who came from what king and was sired by who, etc. I find that when I write, because I see it so clearly in my head (like a movie) that I need to get it out of my head and so do a lot of "getting in the car" scenes. However, during the editing process I find that I can cut almost all of it, 85% of the time. I think in sci-fi, you can't take the scenery for granted. If you're on Earth, then there is a lot of "yeap, been there-seen that", so less is okay. Anyway, that's my two cents.
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extrinsic
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MattLeo,

All four question categories are useful avenues for show and tell examination and explication. One difference I might suggest considering is letting go of value judgments of the good and bad or better and worse kind. Works, doesn't work; weak, stong; short, long, etc., may facilitate a more dynamic discussion.

Also, since we're discussing show and tell, using examples to show show and tell, and tell show and tell might be a best practice. Toward that end, I recommend a freely accessible, online model short story, so as not to exclude anyone who might not have read the story before. And since we may substantially exceed fair use doctrine allowance of the model story's quantity posted as excerpts, that the story be one from the public domain. This means published prior to 1923, which may be a benefit since many short stories priorly are expressed in traditional, frequent telling narrative voices. Lots of tell to filter through and evaluate whether parts are more show or tell or degrees between extremes. Further, since by default first person narrator stories have closest narrative distance, a first person story. Lastly, as short stories tend to be more tell due to their brevity and so as not to burden discussion participants with too onerous a reading selection, a short one is probably a best practice.

I can't think of more useful models than short stories by Edgar Allen Poe.

"The Cask of Amontillado," 1846, 2,300 words, is Project Gutenberg's most downloaded Poe short story, after the poem "The Raven" and the novel The Fall of the House of Usher.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1063/1063-h/1063-h.htm

"The Cask of Amontillado"'s Opening paragraph:

"The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settledóbut the very definitiveness with which it was resolved, precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish, but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong."

[ April 10, 2013, 11:42 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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rcmann
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Showing requires more work, in most cases, on the part of the reader. Therefore, it is writing 'up' to the reader. It also helps to clarify things. Like teaching in the form of a proverb, or a parable, helps to seat a concept in the mind of a student. Teachers always use examples when trying to get across a new idea, because the human mind operates more efficiently that way.

The example from Poe illustrates an exception to that idea - the circumstance where the writer establishes in intimate, on-on-one relationship with the reader. Poe specialized in that type of story, and 'telling' is the only way it can be done.

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extrinsic
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Behind Poe's telling in "The Cask of Amontillado" is a great deal of showing. The direct address to readers feels intimate from the power of written word to be a private experience.

However, the intangible features of unreliable narration, five or six varieties of irony expressed, and at least one potent message behind the tangible meanings of the story give readers matter to engage their creative imaginations through, hence showing more than the tangible, literal meaning of the superficial telling words.

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MattLeo
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It occurs to me that unreliable narration necessarily entails showing. The reader extracts from the narration something that the narrator did not intend to tell, but unconsciously shows. Naturally the *author* intends for you to know these things, even if the narrator does not.

I'm all for looking at Poe, but the fondness of Victorian writers for elaborate rhetorical flourishes obscures the point. Let's look at the opening of *The Cask of Amontillado* as a modern writer might render it:

quote:
I was sick of Fortunato's continual abuse, but when it rose to the level of insult I swore I'd get revenge. In fact not only would I get my revenge, I'd get away scott-free. It wouldn't count as revenge unless he realized I had taken my revenge and would never be punished for it.
In this passage there are the things the narrator tells you -- that Fortunato abused and insulted him, and his opinions on the art of revenge. There are things he does not tell you, like the exact nature of the abuse and the insult in question. And then there are the things you figure out for yourself -- and that in my opinion is the "showing".

For example, Montressor does not react openly to behavior he sees as abusive or insulting as a normal person would. Instead he makes a *secret* resolve. This *shows* us that he is not forthright, but rather secretive and deceptive. In fact we quickly see that he maintains a counterfeit facade of warmth and friendship toward Fortunato, so Montressor obviously is an accomplished manipulator and liar -- and that is "showing", because we reach that conclusion on our own.

Montressor's manipulative behavior throws the omission of the supposed insult into new light. He is *telling* the listener that the insult justly deserved death, but the fact that he is not forthcoming with the details warns us that Montressor is being deceitful. Most readers I think would feel some distrust toward him because of this, even if it is not conscious. This distrust is reinforced throughout the story as Montressor manipulates Fortunato, repeatedly pretending to encourage him to turn back while at the same time playing on his alcoholism to drive him forward. Why would he be less manipulative towards the readers?

And the very fact that Montressor has developed such an elaborately worked-out personal philosophy of revenge also "shows" the reader there is something disturbingly wrong with him. Most readers would instinctively feel this is abnormal.

There's another significant piece of showing just before Montressor places the last brick in place:
quote:
My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. I hastened to make an end of my labour.
So Montressor is not devoid of human reactions like empathy and horror, he's just so dissociated from them he misinterprets them as purely physical symptoms. This Poe "showing" us that Montressor is, in 19th C parlance, "morally insane".

I think showing in all its forms isn't about piling on details, but engaging the reader's imagination and reason so that he comes up with his own ideas about the story. These are usually, but not always, conclusions you intend for him to reach. When readers surprise you with something you know is right, then I believe you've done a good job "showing".

This example is a kind of showing that's near and dear to my heart: character revelation. But I think there's other kinds of showing too. For example in action or suspense you want readers to infer more danger than you explicitly tell them about, because readers feel their own conclusions more keenly than ones they're handed. That happens in *The Cask of Amontillado*; Montressor's cunning manipulation of Fortunato foreshadows the sadism of his plans, and that creates suspense.

I still think the quest story is an acid test for "showing" skills. The very nature of a quest story is that it consists of a sequence of more or less arbitrary encounters. As a writer you have to transform those encounters as something meaningful.

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extrinsic
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Emulation exercises build writing skills. Changing the circumstances or voice of a piece, or both, reinvents and reimagines the original and may lead to an update for a piece that's lost a degree of its timeliness and relevance for contemporary audiences.

Preserving craft and voice features in the process might be a best practice, though. Ironies are one of the stronger voice features of this Poe story: verbal irony, situational irony, dramatic irony, dark comedy drama and farce irony, courtly irony, and Socratic irony. For example, Montressor's narrative voice is flirtatiously ironic, confidently self-assured, and ironically in a sophisticated register. His overstatement, "The thousand injuries of Fortunato," obviously ovetstates the circumstances. Montressor might as well have thought Fortunato gave a million injuries, a hundred and one, or ninety-nine. A verbal irony in that Montressor knows he idiomatically expresses an exaggerated though intolerable situation that actually means he's okay with impersonal slights (perhaps unintended: injuries) but not okay with personal insults. Also a situational irony in that Montressor obviously is not okay with a few impersonal slights, not if one perhaps unintended insult is the straw that broke the camel's back.

Montressor's sophisticated register develops his aristocratic identity, a show, yet the vagueness of the exact nature of Fortunato's slights and insult give a lie to Montressor's actual degree of sophistication, a show. He mimics the dialect of his social station but doesn't conform to his station's social duties, one example of which is he commits a craven, scandalous crime far beneath his station that could embarrass his peer cohort. A situational irony in that he speaks the talk but doesn't realize his wicked thoughts and acts counter his belief he acts above reproach, "with impunity."

"The Cask of Amontiilado" expresses an anti-aristocrat sensibility, hence the aristocratic voice shows a contrast between the reality of Montressor's craven personality and his presupposed sophistication. The voice and contrary behavior shows a message that even supposedly sophisticated individuals are subject to the same human frailties and failings as average folk. They put their pants on one leg at a time, too.

This thematic undercurrent is a feature of the Realism movement and its countering of Romanticism's poetic justice and renewal of Predeterminism. Noble behaviors, self-sacrificing behaviors, good acts, so to speak, are not typically rewarded in Realism. Actually, for Realism, one might say no good deed goes unpunished, as in real-world life, is more prevalent. Evil is not punished either. In other words, little or no poetic justice in Realism.

Though Montressor is high-borne and in Predeterminism conventions could do no wrong, he commits a guilty act, a mens rea, by concealing his wicked actions and outcomes from oveerseeing eyes that show he knows he's committed a wicked, self-serving act.

Other thematic undercurrents shown include idiosyncractic reimaginations of several other truism idioms: adding insult to injury, revenge is a dish best served cold, after cooler heads prevail and as cruelly cold-tempered as practical; the straw that broke the camel's back, and inverting of the cultural motif of a court jester as the wise, knowledgable, and cynical witty fool archetype. Fortunato as the clown, who otherwise would be the prankster, unwittingly becomes the literal butt of a cruel and fatal prank. The aristocrat Montressor, name meaning my treasure, exacts his revenge, vengeance, and retribution upon his court jester.
----
Quest stories' strengths in the show department are in part from new and exotic settings and personas a protagonist experiences. A protagonist's emotional reactions to new experiences might have an edge of what J.R.R. Tolkien calls exotic secondary settings. Writers writing in contemporary settings showing how the places they are intimately familiar with are exotic is challenging. Contrarily, artfully showing places a writer isn't familiar with so that readers imaginations fill in the gaps as intended can be equally as challenging.

Note how Poe uses nitre deposit descriptions as telling details to show the deepening and time-marked qualities of the catacombs. And how Montressor's fixation on the nitre deposits develops his character as the drama unfolds. Montressor's destination quest journey through familiar catacomb territory is nonetheless vivid and exotic.

[ April 11, 2013, 07:23 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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extrinsic and MattLeo, an interesting discussion that I will freely admit is so far over my head I feel as if I've sunk into the earth ten feet.

That's not to say it doesn't have its place or purpose, however, I would guess I'm not alone here in saying that I'm struggling with 'basic' show and tell; I am so far away from using an unreliable narrator to 'show' character flaws as to wonder if I shouldn't go back to writing with crayons.

What you are talking about is a refinement to show and tell that I will, no doubt, hunger to learn later on in my journey learning the craft of writing. And, on that point, let me say it was quite a shock for me to realise I've only been 'exploring' the art of writing for three years and two weeks. It seems like forever, and I've learned so much in so short a time. Prior to that time, I'd struggle to write a half page letter.

So much to learn, and so little time. And a gift of understanding is what I really want for Xmas.

Phil.

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
extrinsic and MattLeo, an interesting discussion that I will freely admit is so far over my head I feel as if I've sunk into the earth ten feet.

That's not to say it doesn't have its place or purpose, however, I would guess I'm not alone here in saying that I'm struggling with 'basic' show and tell; I am so far away from using an unreliable narrator to 'show' character flaws as to wonder if I shouldn't go back to writing with crayons.

Phil -- given what I've read in your comments I doubt this conversation is over your head. It's more likely that my writing is unclear and sometimes off-topic.

Also, the Poe example might not be your kind of writing. Take a look at this example, from chapter 9 of Anthony Hope's PRISONER OF ZENDA. Mr. Rassendyl has gone to a midnight meeting with his enemy's mistress in a summerhouse. She informs him that it is a trap, then the enemy's henchmen show up on the steps of the summerhouse's only entrance. They negotiate with Rassendyl in obvious bad faith; they want him to open the door so they can get a clear shot at him. Rassendyl picks up an iron tea table to use as a shield and prepares to rush them:

quote:
I went and fumbled with the latch. Then I stole back to my place on tiptoe.

"I can't open it!" I cried. "The latch has caught."

"Tut! I'll open it!" cried Detchard. "Nonsense, Bersonin, why not? Are you afraid of one man?"

I smiled to myself. An instant later the door was flung back. The gleam of a lantern showed me the three close together outside, their revolvers levelled. With a shout, I charged at my utmost pace across the summer-house and through the doorway. Three shots rang out and battered into my shield. Another moment, and I leapt out and the table caught them full and square, and in a tumbling, swearing, struggling mass, they and I and that brave table, rolled down the steps of the summerhouse to the ground below. Antoinette de Mauban shrieked, but I rose to my feet, laughing aloud.

De Gautet and Bersonin lay like men stunned. Detchard was under the table, but, as I rose, he pushed it from him and fired again. I raised my revolver and took a snap shot; I heard him curse, and then I ran like a hare, laughing as I went, past the summer-house and along by the wall. I heard steps behind me, and turning round I fired again for luck. The steps ceased.

"Please God," said I, "she told me the truth about the ladder!" for the wall was high and topped with iron spikes.

This whole scene is worth studying if you're an action writer, because it's a masterpiece of adventure writing. The things that set this scene apart from lesser action scenes are the manipulation of pacing, the building and releasing of tension, and the way Hope uses the "show not tell" principle to immerse the reader in the scene.

This really is fundamental stuff, which is what makes it hard, even for extrinsic, who's made a formal study of these matters.

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extrinsic
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I don't see particular difficulty analyzing the scene, nor misunderstand the appeal of the novel for its audience. Hope wrote in a Britsh aristocrat's late nineteenth century voice, an ocean and half a century away from Poe, for one. Each has a degree of voice's register sophistication.

Further, the credible and logical antagonism, causation, and tension features of the scene are set up priorly and continue development in the scene's moment, location, and circumstances. Readers care and are curious about Rassendyl due to identifying with him through the developments: tension, and tension is more about what readers know beforehand than in the moment of revelation and reversal, which the latter are tension reliefs that causally lead into reraising tension.

Note how Hope priorly sets up the situation by arranging the three gunmen close together so that Rassendyl's tea table shield can mow into them. Logical and timely prepositioning. The gunmen's clustering shows their inexperience or bravado or both. Rassendyl doesn't remark or think in the moment about their obvious inexperience or impractical fire discipline.

One feature of the scene that stands out, that Rassendyl is aware only of the sensations that matter in the moment, place, and circumstances and timely reacts to them through thought reactions and actions. His thoughts and actions are reactive rather than deliberative, an action feature of adventure heroes' action scenes that might as well be engraved on stone as a law, if there weren't artful exceptions to the method and principle. Anyway, Rassendyl doesn't dwell on body posture, setting details, look in on the scene as if an observer seeing himself proactively acting. He doesn't narratively mediate his own actions consciously or otherwise. He acts and shows his actions in the moment, location, and circumstance.

Of description, action, introspection, conversation, sensation, and emotion--scene fundamentals--emotion is most provided by Rassendyl's disregard of possible harm and somewhat matter-of-fact reporting in a degree of sophisticated diction and syntax. Unlike Poe, however, Hope uses brief and abrupt sentences varied somewhat in length, syntax, diction, and complex and compound and simple main clauses, apropos for dynamic action scenes and their pacing and tension.

Rassendyl doesn't notice the byplay of light and shadow in the moment, for example, how Poe might use Impressionism's chiaroscuro imagery to express intangibles, like emotions, instead, relying on reader imaginations to fill in details developed earlier and emerging as the scene unfolds.

Emotions for example, by the time of this scene, readers know Rassendyl enough to know he is not hotheaded, but is a mite prone to surprising and daring frontal confrontations when cornered. Hence, showing his ire and fear fight or flight response, all the while calm-headedly doing what must be done if he's to survive.

[ April 12, 2013, 01:51 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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MattLeo
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First of all, it is absolutely true that Hope does a superb job of stage-managing this scene. That may be more akin to carpentry than fine art, but it's still a job well done.

What I'm particularly interested in the Zenda scene are the many things that the reader knows about it without being told. Because the readers haven't been told these things, they must necessarily have been shown.

For example if you read very closely (or perhaps not closely at all, like a naive reader) you'll see Rassendyl is not calm-headed in this scene. He's giddy, almost intoxicated with fear and excitement. Rassendyl's tunnel vision contributes to that perception, as does his somewhat hysterical laughter and his desperate prayer that the ladder be where it is supposed to be. This is a top-notch adventure writer using his showing skills to draw the readers into a heightened experience. That happens to be different than how you'd do it in horror, or literary fiction, but it's still showing.

Your point about the rhythm of this scene is spot-on. If you go further back there is a very long stretch of dialog, each line consisting of 10-15 words. This shows an interesting property of dialog, it's power to distort the reader's perception of pace. Pace is an entirely subjective phenomenon; while dialog necessarily delays the action in a story, in the right circumstances it can build tension and create the perception that things are happening quickly.

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extrinsic
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Not surprisingly, reading dialogue for average reading rate readers is directly equal to average speaking rate: roughly one hundred fifty words per minute. This speaks to how readers' perceptions of story time's passage during dialogue is about equivalent to narrative time's passage. Attribution tags and thought, description, action, sensation, and emotion portrayals, as well as other narrative modes: narration, summarization, exposition, recollection, explanation, and transition; may shorten, lengthen, or suspend story time's passage, while narrative time may be equal to, longer than, or shorter than story time's passage.

This is growing deep. Perhaps MattLeo and I might return to the lower hanging fruit of the show and tell tree, rather than our wont for attending to treetop fruits.

Please, post examples of summary and explanation tell sentences for analysis and perhaps trial reworking into show passages.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Please, post examples of summary and explanation tell sentences for analysis and perhaps trial reworking into show passages.

Maybe that could be a writing challenge?

Someone pick a basic "tell" sentence, such as "It was cold outside." Participants write up to 13 lines "showing" that.

Maybe there could be more than one "tell" sentence to rewrite in the challenge?

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
Maybe that could be a writing challenge?

Someone pick a basic "tell" sentence, such as "It was cold outside." Participants write up to 13 lines "showing" that.

Maybe there could be more than one "tell" sentence to rewrite in the challenge?

That sounds like fun. How many different stories can we show from respeaking one brief tell? Here's a quickie:

As usual it took me ten minutes to bundle up like an Eskimo. Even so, after half an hour doing the barnyard chores, I had snot icicles hanging from my nose and blue spots on all my fingers.

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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by History:
P.S. What my little parable means to me: The deconstruction of the craft of writing runs the risk of extracting the fun and magic out of it.

Precisely what I got from it. [Smile]
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MattLeo
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You guys don't give yourselves enough credit. I've seen plenty of Hatrackers' mss by now and without exception you're a lot more advanced than you seem to think. I mean, maybe none of us are Hemingway or C.S. Lewis, but "It was cold outside" isn't much of a challenge.

quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:


Please, post examples of summary and explanation tell sentences for analysis and perhaps trial reworking into show passages.

Let me throw out some examples that I think are more of a challenge to the level of writers we have here.


(1) The dragon was terrifying.

(2) He found the view from the top of the cascade awe-inspiring.

(3) Talking to him made her nervous, but she did her best to hide it.

(4) He entered the haunted room; it was a scary thing to do.

(5) She tried this "chocolate ice cream" stuff he offered her; it wasn't like anything she'd ever had before, but it was pretty good.

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extrinsic
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Heading toward a challenge, when I finish up prior obligations demanding attention, in about a month more, then a decompression break for a couple weeks.

In the meantime, we can practice show and tell expansions, right?

Scene development inventory:

  • Plot development:
    • Antagonism: problem and want forces in opposition
    • Causation: cause and effect, action and reaction, stimuli and response
    • Tension: evoking empathy and curiosity
  • Discourse modes for scene development
    • Description
    • Sensation
    • Conversation; dialogue
    • Action; both physical and dramatic
    • Introspection; thought
    • Emotion: attitude toward subject matter
    • And narration, summarization, exposition (introductions), recollection, explanation, and transition modes as indicated
  • Setting development: time, place, and situation
  • Idea or theme development
  • Character development
  • Event development
  • Context and Texture development: who, when, where, what, why, how question answers
Use any selected items or all of the above to fully realize a scene's meaning.

[ April 16, 2013, 08:52 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Robert Nowall
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I haven't had anything to contribute to this interesting discussion...but I want to thank MattLeo for contributing his examples, which give me some food for thought about my own work.
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extrinsic
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A preliminary look at examples provided:

From Ms. Dalton Woodbury;
"It was cold outside."
No overt plot devlopment. Neither a problem nor a want stated directly or implied. Cold outside could be desired if winter sports are wanted. Similarly, cold outside could be a problem. No causation. No tension. Perhaps a degree of voice in that the sentence is exclamation-like. The syntax is a tipoff. "It" is a sentence expletive, meaningless until the pronoun's subject referent "outside" is expressed. Thus a possible interjection sentence of the exclamation kind. However, the sentence used as dialogue would benefit from artful context and texture setup beforehand.

The idiomatic sentence's strength is its everyday conversation usage, hence, used in dialogue, the sentence could be a show; otherwise, a summary and explanation tell that expresses only that the outside of the observer persona's setting is cold. All the words in the sentence are vague and nonsignificant, signaling little, if any, meaning. Significant or significance in the sense of clear person, time, place, and situation expression. The sentence is ripe for development expansion.

MattLeo's:
"(1) The dragon was terrifying."
Possible problem implied.

"(2) He found the view from the top of the cascade awe-inspiring."
No significance development. Strongest of the five examples of a summary and explanation tell.

"(3) Talking to him made her nervous, but she did her best to hide it."
Clear problem.

"(4) He entered the haunted room; it was a scary thing to do."
Problem implied.

"(5) She tried this "chocolate ice cream" stuff he offered her; it wasn't like anything she'd ever had before, but it was pretty good."
Want implied and satisfied.

I'll be back to expand Ms. Dalton Woodbury's example, albeit by making assumptions and projecting drama onto it. Its seeming straightfowardness belies its challenges. Note its similarity to the often cited and deprecated weather report opening tell, "It was a dark and stormy night."

[ April 16, 2013, 08:12 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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The problem with: "It was cold outside." is that there is no particularity. What is it? The air was cold, the ice underfoot, the mood? The variable in the whole equation is the word 'It'.

By defining that single word, a whole new universe of prose opens up before the writer. A new take on: It was cold outside, could take the following format:

The pain of my loss left me empty, devoid of feeling or passion. I am now become an instrument of destruction, my heart as cold as a glacier; and just as slow and inexorable in its pursuit. Outside, I look upon the handiwork of my blossoming vengeance. It is cold outside, indeed; despite the flowers of spring.

A hasty example, however I think it demonstrates that 'defining' what 'it' is changes the whole dynamics of the simple statement.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Grumpy old guy,

You use the power of symbolism for expessing tangible forces to show intangible forces in opposition. Like imagery, which is visual sensations that show intangibles through use of visual tangibles. Cold used as symbolism can mean an external force, say, of rejection, shunning, and the like pressing inwardly, or internal forces, say of a mood, an attitude, or the like, pressing outwardly, or both outward and inward forces.

The power of weather for showing more than ambience, like external and internal forces, is its symbolism usage. Hence, an artful reason and a strategy for deploying show when describing weather. More artful yet is when implied meaning is accessible in the moment of reading and transcends its directly stated meaning. This is de dicto meaning, of the word, becoming de re, of the thing, meaning expression. Exquisite.

And you use the three principle meaning spaces of animacy: interior, inside or indoors, and outside or outdoors. Similar animacy meaning spaces: here, there, and yonder; us, them, and those people, too.

Symbolism and imagery are advanced writing principles. Use of variant animacy meaning spaces within a scene are even more advanced. Animacy in sociology is the comparative pecking order standing of other persons and things an individual perceives relative to her or himself. For example, God, country, king, family, self, kine, and kit, and other describes a traditional pecking order.

Animacy in semantics is the comparative sentience and aliveness of a noun. Mrs. J.R. Higgins is more sentient and alive than man used impersonally, for example. Man more than dog. Dog more than tree. Tree more than soil. Heart more than glacier. Bread more than wheat grains. And so on.

[ April 17, 2013, 10:29 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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Showing "It was cold outside" depends on creative choices, assumptions, and intents. I chose not to use any of those four words, a self-imposed rule.

Brown maple leaves swept across the bald yard, tumbled, crashed, leapt into shoreline black rush grasses. A dented aluminum john boat turned keel up on the beach lay tied to a narrow and short pier deck. Ice slabs rippling on the shore's shallows caught nightshade light from a sinking oval moon. Frothy bergs, churned into frozen foam by stirring waves, broken loose from the ice pack, floated still and high on the dark river's ebbing tide.

Detective Baxter turned back from the picture window, the sole window of the stifling hot one-room shack, interior framing bare. Neighboring fishermen down the river had called in complaining a strong odor came from the cabin. The dead fisherman sat on a threadbare couch in front of a blaring portable television. No immediate signs of foul play: no firearms, no visible wounds

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Grumpy old guy
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Now I feel firmer ground beneath my feet. IMHO, in the extract above, the entire first paragraph is the narrator 'telling' me about what's going on on the other side of a plate glass window.

As extrinsic's editor, I would advise, "Now, look 'ere lad. Begin the scene in Baxter's POV. He's in an overly warm room; make me feel the dryness of his throat, his lips, the scratchiness of his eyes, the beads of sweat forming on his brow and upper lip. He looks outside, noticing the john boat rocking in the wind, he opens the door and is instantly assaulted by a howling gale that drives ice particles into his cheeks like stinging needles. It grabs the fedora he had pushed back from his forehead in the heat of the room and flings it carelessly into the night..."

Just a thought.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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I intended to demonstrate that in spite of using strong show technique a show can feel like a tell, in isolation at least. Narrative distance is open in the first paragraph from limited context and texture, mostly not expressing who observes the setting outside, partly from relative rather than absolute where and when, and also from little correlation to what, the dramatic situation, and how and why to the dramatic complication.

Such openings signal a narrator's involvement and voice will foreground from time to time so that multiple viewpoints can be expressed as a narrative unfolds. However, the voice is unsettled from abrupt transitions between what is essentially setting backstory to the situational backstory of the detective's summarized sensory perceptions.

The first paragraph is a vignette, a setting sketch. The second is a transition to an incomplete character sketch. The focal character I envisioned is the fisherman. The detective's interest is investigating the cause of death.

The opening here is intended as an afterlude, a prelude opening of a modular short story where the timeline is nonlinear but develops accessibility as the fisherman's saga unfolds. A challenging structure to compose and arrange. The mystery of the fisherman's death is the dramatic complication I intend.

However, by default of readers' natural inclinations, the first paragraph as a disembodied mind's nonvolitional thoughts about the outside setting defaults to feeling like narrator voice and then defaults in the second paragraph to the detective as anchor character and voice by dint of naming him. By the third modular paragraph, the nonlinear timeline begins to unfold and the narrator's identity and involvement as well.

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Grumpy old guy
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Upon reflection, I had assumed the opening paragraph was indeed intentional, giving, as you said, a shallower POV for the narrator. However, it still doesn't make me 'feel' the cold, it just tells me what's going on; and that's mainly about the wind, but I can't envision its howling force or biting cold.

I guess my preference for a deep third person POV is coming through.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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The first short story of mine presented to a workshop years ago was unanimously panned for starting to close in narrative distance. The complement was less than helpful in their comments, only that it felt too close and narrow in focus.

It took me a long time to uderstand what they meant, to recognize what wasn't working for them, and why. Open and progressively closing narrative distance was the group's comfort zone preference. Mine is start close and progress closer. They were used to traditional narrative openings where a disembodied narrator introduces the action, characters, setting, and other introductory circumstances through backstory.

Alternatively, a large challenge of in medias res openings that may begin close is to manage the introductions and backstory all the while moving the action forward. Deep third person character voice is one useful method. I favor deep third person, too. Putting that voice together with in medias res and managing introductions and moving the action ahead in timely tension and tension relief has plagued me.

My muse prohibits me from using the four-letter word for air motion.

[ April 30, 2013, 06:31 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Reviewing some of the things I've jotted down, here and there, I think I can do a passable job beginning a story in medias res. For me, it's all about picking the focus of the opening; character, milieu or dramatic complication--back-story can come later.

By later, I mean it may still be in the same chapter but I wouldn't dare try and add more in-depth back-story within the same scene. And, re-reading this:
quote:
and moving the action ahead in timely tension and tension relief has plagued me.
I get the feeling that you may be trying to force the issue, rather than allowing it to unfold as it wants to. Perhaps you need to spend a moment indulging in some pantser style writing? [Wink]

Personally, I dislike in medias res openings. In fact, I don't think there is a single instance of such an opening in all the books in my library.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
I get the feeling that you may be trying to force the issue, rather than allowing it to unfold as it wants to. Perhaps you need to spend a moment indulging in some pantser style writing?
Phil.

I write an intuitive-planned blend. I might begin by planning a structure or free-association writing or switching around to both during drafting. Many of my early beginnings are practices, experiments, method or voice exercises. One quality they have in common, struggling for personal meaning that's larger than life. By larger than life I mean appreciable meaning for others. The fisherman's story from above is a new beginning for a short story as an exercise struggling to understand the recent abrupt departure of a sibling.

A fair portion of the works I've read begin in medias res. Several of my favorite short stories begin in medias res. The writers favor openings of that sort. Thinking about it, I've come close to understanding the method and favor the closeness of its narrative distance. Perhaps a discussion of the method might help to more firmly grasp the method. I'm certainly studying the method used by my favorite writers. Realizing the distinctions of that method from other methods was half the struggle. For one, that in medias res is much more than in the middle of things, like beginning in character voice in the moment, place, and situation from the outset of the action.

[ May 03, 2013, 07:33 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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