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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Showing v. Telling

   
Author Topic: Showing v. Telling
Disgruntled Peony
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Something I seem to be struggling with a great deal of late is showing versus telling. I've read a lot of conflicting advice on the topic and I'm trying to sort it all out in my head.

The thing I most commonly hear is that showing is far and away preferred above telling. However, OSC says that telling is a good way to perform time-skips and the like in order to get back to the meat of the story.

On the other hand, I recently got semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and one of the two things that kept me from reaching finalist according to David Farland's critique of the story is that I told in places where he felt I should have shown. He didn't point out the specific instances in said story, and when I read it over I only found what I considered to be a couple of serious instances of telling. There were also multiple in-character musings that could potentially be misinterpreted as telling, but I wasn't certain.

Essentially, at this point I'm trying to figure out what constitutes showing and what constitutes telling because I don't want to butcher my stories. I've been struggling with it for weeks and finally decided it was best just to bring it up here.

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extrinsic
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Semifinalist congratulations.

Tell is summary and explanation (diegesis and exegesis). Show is reality imitation (mimesis).

Examples:

Summary tell (summarizes action, sensation, emotion, etc). Mayhew bought a plum.

Explanation tell (explains why). Plums are high fiber and Mayhew's doctor said eat plums.

Show (private-personal sensation and emotional response). Autumn Plum, Mayhew thought, sweet, bitter, sawdust paste on the palate -- might as well gnaw wood.

Tell starts and revisits narrator voice to concisely provide detail necessary to understand the action of the moment. Therefore, tell best practice sets up, leads through, and spans transitions. Timely, judicious tell's function is transitions.

Show is emotionally charged sensation: visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and, most crucially, emotional feeling observations.

The most common tell shortfall, in my experience, is emotionally neutral narrator mediation of otherwise sensory descriptions.

Example: She [or he, I, they, name, etc.] _saw_ Mayhew buy and eat a plum.

If a sentence's subject is a sensation receiver and the main verb, "saw" above, summarizes, explains, or both, the subject's observed sensation, the sentence is likely an artless tell.

[ May 25, 2016, 02:23 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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Thanks, extrinsic, that helps a lot. I actually think explanation tells are where I've been slipping up, for the most part. Those don't always ping on my internal editor's radar like they should.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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For whatever it may be worth, my preferred way of distinguishing between showing and telling is to consider what the reader needs to know in detail (what is important in order to recreate the story in the reader's head). Those things should be shown (written so the reader can experience them as they happen), and that requires wordage.

One way to let the reader know what is important is by spending a lot of words on it. If you spend too many words on something that isn't important, you risk boring or confusing the reader.

Then, you tell what you need to in order to get to the next place you are going to be showing. So, as extrinsic said, tell is summary, and therefore does not use as many words.

Often, a writer will be asked to "show" more because something the reader felt was important was only summarized, and the reader wanted to know/experience more.

I hope this helps.

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dmsimone
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Thanks for raising this topic. I think I also tend to tell when I should be showing, and vice versa. Kathleen, I like your advice...decide on show versus tell based on what the reader needs to experience.
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walexander
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Congrats on your semi,

This is one of those fascinating topics that I wonder about. Can a semifinalist story actually be "Changed" into a finalist story? Because in the change don't you have just as much chance to devalue the story, and get less than semi-fi? A change from tell to show in a short story can be a major rewrite. The question becomes was the story always destined to only reach semi-fi?

I use art often in comparison. Many people will say you should have did this and it would have been better, then you change it and they say Oh, now that I see it this way, I like it better the way it was.

It's just one of those unknown questions writers and artists have to ask themselves.

Be very proud of your semi-fi. It's a deep competition, and with any award based comp. you can only hope you hit the judges with the right story at the right time. Keep trying, you'll hit the mark.

congrats again,

W.

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Disgruntled Peony
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Thank you for the congratulations, extrinsic and walexander! [Smile] (I felt awkward bringing it up for some reason, but it was intrinsically related to my problem.)

I thought about resubmission, but decided I personally don't want to resubmit a story to WotF that I've already submitted before. I just want to make the story as good as possible before I try other markets, in hopes that it will sell.

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rabirch
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quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
Thank you for the congratulations, extrinsic and walexander! [Smile] (I felt awkward bringing it up for some reason, but it was intrinsically related to my problem.)

I thought about resubmission, but decided I personally don't want to resubmit a story to WotF that I've already submitted before. I just want to make the story as good as possible before I try other markets, in hopes that it will sell.

Definitely get the story out to other markets! Semi-Finalist is an excellent result, and I hope you're able to find it a home.

Just as a PSA for anyone reading, you absolutely *can* resubmit HMs, Silver HMs, or rejections to WotF, but not Semi-Finalists or Finalists. People have won with reworked HMs and suchlike, but because of the added judge feedback for the Semis, they are not eligible to be resubmitted to the contest.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
Thank you for the congratulations, extrinsic and walexander! [Smile] (I felt awkward bringing it up for some reason, but it was intrinsically related to my problem.)

I thought about resubmission, but decided I personally don't want to resubmit a story to WotF that I've already submitted before. I just want to make the story as good as possible before I try other markets, in hopes that it will sell.

You're welcome.

Personal celebrations of success, on the one hand, I applaud. On the other hand, and this is fragile and problematic, success celebrations might gloat, insistently prescribe, and give offense. Gloats oftentimes unsettle me, mostly when unwarranted due to self-promotion done at others' emotional expense. In this case, I feel the celebration is reasonable and warranted. Here's why, and related to writing skill development: this case doesn't gloat at all. The announcement is, one, for another purpose and intent; two, is humble, and three, invites emotional bonding and doesn't alienate or offend in any manner.

Too often, in my experience, writers, once they debut, become impossibly proud and overbearing. They think they've broken through the proverbial market culture veil and there's no going back. Career success seems guaranteed and they hold that over perceived lesser writers' heads; meanwhile, they pay less, if any more at all, attention to their skill development.

The matter is survivorship bias; that is, they've survived and succeeded and beaten the competition; therefore, they're somehow better than everyone else. Never mind that they've only pierced a single pore of the veil one time and have pages more to go and must stay abreast or ahead of the culture, which they often do not, rather plateau and stall or backtrack and develop lazy habit, and then wonder why the next hundred submissions are indifferently declined: that the only actual competition of any value is the self.

For me, bluntly, I believe a writer's success, best practice, is sung and peeled and tolled by others. I will know I've succeeded, by whatever metric, when others say I have, nor do I let that go to my head, so to speak.

In this case, though, that a WotF submission earned a semifinalist recognition is tertiary to the purpose of that revelation; that is, a consideration of why the submission was partially declined and partially approved. Too much untimely and injudicious tell and a question of what about show and tell could be considered metrics for writing skill enhancement is the point of the revelation and discussions thereof.

I applaud that deft expression, with which I celebrate along, that it invites common cause participation and contribution between passionate writers, reveals helpful information about WotF judging criteria and, no less meaningful, personal achievement in which others can without problematic reservation personally share. I count these expression methods among those of responsible writers. Thank you for all the above.

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Grumpy old guy
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In general it is always better to show than tell. The problem is, as with any rule, there are always exceptions. And because the 'show don't tell rule' is in fact a gross generality, there are more exceptions to this one than most. So, what to do? At the end of the day it all boils down to a decision by the writer about what and when to show and when to tell. But how do you decide which needs what?

For me, it helps to remember why we read (or watch, or listen to) stories. We want to escape to another, more interesting world or time. We want to meet people who are better and greater than ourselves. We want to be transported out of the mundane and experience the marvellous--to immerse ourselves in something other than our own day-to-day lives. The key word in all this is immerse. Today most readers are looking for some sort of immersive experience and to have our imaginations stimulated by exotic vistas, sounds, and smells the writer helps us conjure up, discover and experience. You would think that this is an exhortation to always show and to hell with the tell, right? Then you'd be wrong.

There are some things in a narrative that naturally lend themselves to tell and others to show. The difficulty for newer writers is deciding which is which and what is an appropriate treatment; because some things that lend themselves to show sometimes need to be told and vice versa. For me it all depends on the narrative distance from the reader to the viewpoint character.

The closer you are to the viewpoint character narratively speaking the more 'show' that needs to be included. If you are 'in the character's head', then you'll feel their heart racing, the sweat on their palms and forehead, the dryness in their mouth, and the trembling in their body: Is that fear or anticipation? But if you are 'watching' them as they enter the bar, look around and see the thugs at the far table, there is no need for such intimacy. However, the sights and sounds of the bar as they entered may, or may not, be suitable for a bit of 'show' treatment. These are the decisions each and every writer must make for themselves every time they design a scene.

I could tell you what I would do in a particular situation, say the one above, but would that help? I doubt it; I'm a visual writer who also likes to wallow inside the emotional traumas of my characters. Existential angst is my forté. My only advice is to experiment; read what other writers do and if you like it, emulate it. Listen to comment and feedback about your own work but be mindful, everyone will have their own preferences for what to show and what to tell and, at the end of the week, it's your story to tell any way you want to tell it.

Phil.

[ May 31, 2016, 04:41 AM: Message edited by: Grumpy old guy ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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I've done a round of edits on my story based on the discussion here and submitted it to a magazine. Just to continue the learning session, I have an 11-line prose sample that I'd like to get some clarification on (assuming that's allowed; if not, I can take it down).

quote:
Kurt shut the door and slid the antiquated latch shut. “Mom's home.”
His eight year old brother, Wade, let out a sigh of relief and climbed out from under the bed. “Oh. Good. She'll calm Dad down.” He clutched Kurt's old stuffed dinosaur to his chest as he sat on the bottom bunk.
Kurt fought off pangs of possessive jealousy. He had barely touched Steggie the Stegosaurus in years, but Steggie was still his, damn it. Even so, Wade only confiscated Steggie when he was in search of comfort. Kurt was loathe to take that illusion of security away from him tonight.

As things currently stand, I've cut the last paragraph in this sample out of my story because I think it would be considered telling. On the other hand, I honestly haven't been able to think of another way to get that information across and I feel that it reveals something about Kurt's character. To be fair, the story reads decently without it (which is why I made the cut), but I liked that extra touch of depth.

Is this one of those instances where I was right to kill my darlings, or is it a little more of a grey area? (There were a couple of other situations in the story like this, but I feel this one made the best example.)

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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An 11-line excerpt as an example for discussion purposes is fine, Disgruntled Peony.

On the "kill your darlings" thing - the idea there is along the lines of "if it can't fight for the right to be in the story, cut it" and so I'd say that unless there is something that happens later with Steggie, it probably can't fight for the right to be in the story.

On the other hand, if Dad does something dastardly to Steggie, you've set things up with this excerpt for a powerful reaction in both boys--more than one powerful reaction, come to think of it.

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extrinsic
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The intuition to excise the second paragraph is warranted though, due to other sequence considerations, is more a matter of placement than explanation tell shortfalls, in my estimation.

The situation that causes the dramatic action of the fragment takes place offstage and beforehand. Dad is on a terror. Kurt latches the door. Wade is upset. Kurt is upset Wade self-soothes with Kurt's toy, though Kurt is understanding about Wade taking the toy. Mom comes home. Kurt hopes Mom will calm Dad down. That to me is the natural event sequence.

As written, the sequence is Kurt latches the door. Mom comes home. Kurt hopes Mom will calm Dad down. Wade is upset. Kurt is upset Wade self-soothes with Kurt's toy, though Kurt is understanding. No mention why or that Dad is on a terror, somewhat implied though. Plus, that Kurt readily understands Wade's need for self-soothing defuses the tension possibilities of Kurt's envy of Wade's soothing with Kurt's toy.

Frankly, for me, the fragment is too pat, too on the nose, too tensionless, too easily defused, yet of little emotional charge suited to the circumstances of a dad on a terror.

The language, likewise, to me is too on the sophisticated side for toy-age children, even late childhood's teenage years, and the language misses the allusions of childhood emotional expressions and child-like awkwardness with such feelings and expressions.

The fragment, too, grammatically, misses "true subject" syntax potentials that close narrative distance from external, remote perceptions of a narrator substituted by internal, close perceptions of a viewpoint persona.

The first sentence, for example, "Kurt shut the door and slid the antiquated latch shut." More or less a summary tell from a narrator's remote observation of Kurt's actions. Can Kurt see himself perform these actions as if he is a bystander watching himself act? No. Unless he's disembodied from himself.

The true subject of that compound sentence is the door and what its closing and latching mean emotionally. "antiquated" has little function in that regard and is too sophisticated for late childhood teenagers even. Antique is less so, though still overly sophisticated and emotionless. Old, though emotionless, might be adequate, certainly only a simple one-syllable word, and suited to Kurt's language skills.

Contrarily, awkwardness with sophisticated language could show more than on a word or phrase's surface. Language mimicry that tries and fails word use is such a method with emotional charge potential and common to meaning-naive users.

Modifiers in prose serve an emotional charge function when nouns, pronouns, and verbs do not in and of themselves.

Likewise, several other sentences are summary tell or explanation tell, or both, in the same regards of inability to see the self from an external locus and emotionless.

For demonstration purposes, a thought process for tell made into show by appreciating a true sentence subject. The motif on point is the old door latch. "Old" or "old-fashioned" are the emotionally and drama-meaningful operative terms. A look at a thesaurus yields a cornucopia of possibilities: fuddy-duddy, stodgy, fossil, relic, medieval, cornball, stone-age, obsolete, ancient, outdated, etc., and antiquated and antique. To name a few. The challenge is to select a term that has the intended emotional charge degree and is relevant to the action of the moment and that is within a viewpoint persona's language aptitude or ineptitude awkwardness, or both.

To me, "fossil" suits all the circumstances except relevance to the action of the moment. Dad is on a terror, for example. Terror and torture are parallel concepts. How about a torture device or synonym? The rack, say, rack a fossil door latch shut. Maybe a torture term? Like sadistic fossil latch. Pushing too far into sophisticated language territory there though.

On the other hand, the need to introduce a viewpoint persona by name for a first word or words is powerful, understandably. Yet emotional attitude defuses a name's cold, flat mention from out of the wild-blue disembodied yonder.

Similarly, otherwise, if the door is the sentence subject, that invariably means "the" is the first word. Several grammatical reasons illustrate why that's a less artful consideration. One, "the" is the definite article, an adjective part of speech. "The" use best practice is for specific instances of a definite nature: the White House, the bedroom door, the Dad person. Indefinite articles are for nonspecific uses: a white house, a door, a dad person. The grammar principle for definite article use is the second mention of an otherwise indefinite item may use "the"; a first instance best practice uses an indefinite article.

Use of an article, in the first place, points up that a more robust and specific adjective might be indicated instead. Or a recast sentence. A door, a door latch, are true subjects, or are they the true subjects? Shutting out Dad's terror is the true subject, the sentence's main idea, right?

Plural subjects are less troublesome, too. Hallway doors slammed shut; or, The hallway door slammed shut? Nuances arise there of reading ease and emotional charge considerations.

Frankly, for me, the sentence could be entirely recast and of a different context to meet a first sentence's intensity needs. I'd begin with Dad's terrifying approach to the door with wrathful intents. Dad staggered along the bedroom hallway, angry about what? Do I or Wade deserve his wrath? Yes or no, maybe both, why? What antagonal cause first upsets Dad? Something tangible though fraught with intangible meaning, something Wade or Kurt did. Left an empty milk carton in the fridge? Left toys in the living room Dad stumbled over? A what that leads to why Dad is annoyed.

Starts are difficult who, when, where; what, why, and how questions to imply answers to. Here, to me, the first antagonal cause is what and why Dad is annoyed enough about to take it out on Kurt and Wade.

Dad on a terror -- I'd slam the door and latch it. Dad would rattle the door and threaten further unwarranted terror if the door were not immediately opened. And be torn between obedience duties to Dad and fear for Wade's and my safety. Wade would take up Steggie. I'd be annoyed he took my toy. I'd consider letting Dad in so Wade would get his just comeuppance and instantly regret my shameful thoughts. Mom would come home and, hopefully, calm Dad down. I'd comfort Wade and pray the storm would pass.

As written, though, the first paragraph introduces little antagonism, causation, or tension. The paragraph is more suspension than preparation and is already satisfied beforehand by Mom is home. The second paragraph is aftermath that is actually a consequence of reaction to prior action. It is also suspension that is already satisfied beforehand by Mom comes home, and Kurt's envy reaction to and immediate compassionate understanding defuses Wade taking Steggie.

Organization, more than anything else, like tell, particularly tension preparation, suspension, and satisfaction segment sequencing is to me a greater consideration for shortfalls of the fragment.

[ May 31, 2016, 09:47 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Disgruntled Peony, in the above submission fragment the viewpoint character is Kurt; are we 'seeing' the scene through his eyes and emotions, senses and feelings, or are we being told what he thinks, feels, and does by a narrator?

Example: Kurt shut the door and slid the antiquated latch shut. “Mom's home.” Is this sentence showing me Kurt closing the door and sliding the bolt home, or are you telling me this is what he did?

I suggest that you are telling me. In order to show me what Kurt is doing and feeling you need to get me 'inside his head'. A lot of writers think that the only way to show what a viewpoint character is thinking and feeling is to write it in the first person. Not so. You can use those same first person techniques to show what someone thinks and feels in the third person as well. This is called a 'close narrative distance'; it just needs to be transitioned carefully.

In order to 'show' me you need to transport me there; to inside that room. I need to be seeing, hearing, and feeling everything Kurt does as he slides the bolt home. Did it catch momentarily, was there an instant of panic as it refused to budge and then the breath he didn't know he was holding was released in a rush when the bolt eventually moved and slid home? And, as an extra bit of pedantry, going by the limited description of the locking device on the door Kurt slid home a bolt and not a latch. There are specific differences in design and operation.

What about the next sentence; are you telling me Wade crawled out from under the bottom bunk or am I watching from Kurt's viewpoint as he does this? What about each of the other sentences which follow that? To my mind they are all 'tells'.

Phil.

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Grumpy old guy
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Sometimes . . . it really is okay to tell.

Every now and again, I submit portions of stories, or occasionally whole short stories, to the wonderful people who make up critters: www.critters.org. I find their help invaluable and illuminating. I also find some of their comments exasperating. The most exasperating is this one, “That’s telling, you should always try to show rather than tell.”

Yes, I know, I've read a lot of books on writing by well regarded people in the field, and yes, they all try and ram home that a writer should endeavour to show, rather than tell. It’s a mantra that beginning writers need to be aware of, and I have been since I started writing. Sometimes I fail at the task through omission or inattention; and sometimes I fail deliberately. This mantra of ‘show, don’t tell’ needs some closer examination. It needs this examination because a story that is all show will probably be unreadable, either because it is too frenetic, but more likely, too boring.

As the author of the story, you need to be mindful that showing is always preferable to telling—when appropriate. However, there are times when telling is preferable to showing. Your heroine needs to get from her home to her office in the city. Does this journey reveal anything about her character, the milieu, or the plot? If it doesn’t, feel free to tell me that she caught the bus into the city. If you were to show me her journey from whoa-to-go, your story’s total word count will quadruple, and I’ll end up being bored out of my mind by all the extraneous trivia I’m being bombarded with as you show me ‘everything’.

Also, the selective use of ‘tell’ extends beyond just travelling from place to place. If you are ‘locked’ into a single viewpoint character, events that occur beyond the knowledge of your character can only be related to the reader by telling. Such situations should be avoided if at all possible, but sometimes telling is the only practical way of getting the information into the head of your reader. This is the ‘authorial choice’ you have to make in crafting your story; is it preferable to show her waiting for the bus into the city or to simply write: Later, in her office . . .. It all depends on what you want to do with that moment, explore character, set up future events or some other plot device.

The question you always have to ask yourself as you write is: “How important to the story is this moment?” And that’s what we need to reduce our stories down to as we refine them into their finished product; moments. And then we need to analyse each moment for its intrinsic worth; is this the place for show, or tell? Only you, the author, can answer this question. It is, after all, your story and you’ll tell it the way you want to. All I can do is offer this small piece of advice on whether to show or tell; the more important the moment is in the story, the greater the necessity of ‘showing’ that moment, rather than telling me about it. But, you don’t have to tell me everything.

Phil.

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extrinsic
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Worth note that a large portion of pre-Realism era literature is mostly tell. The pivotal changes that accompanied Realism's departure from prior movements increased show's emphasis and on through Modernism and Postmodernism's similar departures.

However, technology innovations early twentieth century escalated show's ascendance to the point mid twentieth century "show, don't tell" replaced "show and tell." Mass production volume from mechanized paper making and book printing and binding meant a need to appeal and sell to a larger audience than before. More show fit the bill.

Two samples of pure tell openings below, one from the Romanticism era and one from science fiction's Golden Age. Both are from Project Gutenberg and are public domain. Budrys is the coordinating WotF judge who preceded K. D. Wentworth and David Farland.

These two openings are in the traditional narrative point of view of oratory narrators. "Oration" is a key for understanding tell methods, a direct narrator address to readers, implied or real, present or otherwise. Budrys' is the uncommon first person oration; Thackeray's is the more common third person oration.

Show, on the other hand, besides Realism's pivotal reality imitation, is an indirect narrator report of received viewpoint persona reflections.

Vanity Fair
by
William Makepeace Thackeray

BEFORE THE CURTAIN
quote:
As the manager of the Performance sits before the curtain on the boards and looks into the Fair, a feeling of profound melancholy comes over him in his survey of the bustling place. There is a great quantity of eating and drinking, making love and jilting, laughing and the contrary, smoking, cheating, fighting, dancing and fiddling; there are bullies pushing about, bucks ogling the women, knaves picking pockets, policemen on the look-out, quacks (OTHER quacks, plague take them!) bawling in front of their booths, and yokels looking up at the tinselled dancers and poor old rouged tumblers, while the light-fingered folk are operating upon their pockets behind. Yes, this is VANITY FAIR; not a moral place certainly; nor a merry one, though very noisy.
"THE STOKER AND THE STARS"
BY JOHN A. SENTRY (aka, Algirdas Jonas Budrys)
quote:
Know him? Yes, I know him—knew him. That was twenty years ago.
Everybody knows him now. Everybody who passed him on the street knows him. Everybody who went to the same schools, or even to different schools in different towns, knows him now. Ask them. But I knew him. I lived three feet away from him for a month and a half. I shipped with him and called him by his first name.
What was he like? What was he thinking, sitting on the edge of his bunk with his jaw in his palm and his eyes on the stars? What did he think he was after?
Well ... Well, I think he—You know, I think I never did know him, after all. Not well. Not as well as some of those people who're writing the books about him seem to.



[ June 03, 2016, 10:41 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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Also worth note that a large portion of the entire opus of creative compositions entail a tell opening: first clause, first sentence, first paragraph, first chapter, etc., even many narratives recently published.

They start with a declarative expression like, Nuncia picked up an aged and cracked dough bowl. An intense and ongoing examination of narratives entails few examples of indirect narrator report of received viewpoint persona reflection openings from which to draw. Maybe on the order of one in a hundred, from my survey of my large library shelves and other sources. Simply put, a majority of narratives start with a tell.

Starts may be of that narrator tell type -- declaration sentence summary and explanation in particular. Other methods include expressed thought or speech, respectively, introspection and conversation (dialogue, monologue, or soliloquy); or received reflections of private sensory perception.

Thought starts include either a type of stream-of-consciousness method that needs little, if any, attribution, or direct attribution by a narrator, tell, for example, a So-and-so thought tag: What a meh bowl, Kieran thought, to make bread with. On the other hand, stream of consciousness methods use unconventional grammars and emotional charges to imply such thoughts are private and of a particular individual, to be named soon, perhaps. The first line of William Gibson's Neuromancer example below is that unattributed thought type as well as a received viewpoint persona reflection.

Dialogue starts are more common than received reflection starts, too, roughly one in twenty. To wit, "She started the knife fight," Geort said, "like it was to the death, not play or training and stuff." There, one, the dialogue attribution clause is narrator tell, though nearly invisible from attribution custom and conventional practice; and two, raises the consideration that dialogue starts invariably come from disembodied voices. Perhaps setting context and texture are indicated beforehand.

Received reflection starts that begin with an expressed thought similarly come from disembodied minds, and perhaps a thought attribution given by narrator tell, and So-and-so thought is less invisible than a dialogue attribution though invisible enough.

Received sensation reflections are the least common of start types; they imitate external reality as perceived by a viewpoint persona, usually involve visual sensation, maybe less often, respectively, aural, tactile, olfactory, or gustatory sensations and, of course, the most crucial sensation of emotional feeling.

Visual sensation affords the most setting, character, and event development opportunity. Mind, that the eyes may hear, too, and touch, smell, and taste. Likewise, any sensory organ may fuse a sensation, see with touch, taste with hearing, smell with touch, and so on for a horn of plentitude permutations, at least for purposes of written-word expression.

Anyway, two examples of starts that are indirect narrator report of received viewpoint persona reflections. Both are under copyright still, offered for Fair Use illustration and creative composition method discussion of show and tell.

Neuromancer

By William Gibson

Chapter 1
quote:
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

"It's not like I'm using," Case heard someone say, _as_ he shouldered his way through the crowd around the door of the Chat. "It's like my body's developed this massive drug deficiency." It was a Sprawl voice and a Sprawl joke. The Chatsubo was a bar for professional expatriates; you could drink there for a week and never hear two words in Japanese.

Ratz was tending bar, his prosthetic arm jerking monotonously as he filled a tray of glasses with draft Kirin. He saw Case and smiled, his teeth a webwork of East European steel and brown decay. Case found a place at the bar, between the unlikely tan on one of Lonny Zone's whores and the crisp naval uniform of a tall . . .

Sample source

The famous first sentence above shows an emotionally charged, received viewpoint persona visual sensation and is of a stream-consciousness type. The thirteen lines gets to and stays in touch with Case's received reflections, too. Pesky "as" coordination conjunction use, though.
----
Shadow Fires

By Dean Koontz
(1)
Shock
quote:
Brightness fell from the air, nearly as tangible as rain. It rippled down windows, formed colorful puddles on the hoods and trunks of cars, and imparted a wet sheen to the leaves of trees and to the chrome on the bustling traffic that filled the street. Miniature images of the California sun shimmered in every reflective surface, and downtown Santa Monica was drenched in the clear light of a late-June morning.

When Rachel Leben exited the lobby doors of the office building and stepped onto the sidewalk, the sunshine felt like warm water on her bare arms. She closed her eyes and, for a moment, turned her face to the heavens, relishing it.

"You stand there smiling as if nothing better has ever happened to you or ever will," Eric said sourly when he followed her out . . .

(Berkley edition, June 1993)

The first paragraph is a visual sensation, though disconnected from a viewpoint persona's received reflections. Instead, the paragraph is the narrator's report, albeit emotionally charged and reflective reception. The second paragraph does imply the visual sensation connects to the viewpoint persona, part through that Leben further senses the warm sunshine, more so that, by default, she is the first named character and, ergo, the visual sensation nonconsciously attaches to her received perception reflection.
----
In other words, those starts above are some show, some tell, some transition, some fusion, though of note, the use of visual sensations, emotionally charged, received reflections to start narratives.

[ June 04, 2016, 04:35 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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So, what exactly am I showing?

I could spend a couple of hours sitting down and constructing a pretty word picture of a moor under the light of a three-quarter moon, the torn shreds of tattered grey-white clouds rushing past its face and casting their shadows in a kaleidoscope of moving blue-grey apparitions and silvery highlights below. If I do it right you will be there, on that moor, watching the ghostly fingers of translucent mist weave their way between the tufts of gorse while elsewhere it settles and lays still in hollows and limpid pools of stagnating water. But would I be telling you this or showing it to you?

If you can see this moor in your mind's eye, feel the chill in the autumn air and the zephyr breeze as it caresses your skin and carries with it a faint odour of putrefaction that tickles your nose, am I showing you or telling you?

To me, in the above fragments one is setting and one is sensation; in a nutshell setting, no matter how pretty, is telling and sensation is showing. And for sensation a character within the narrative is required to be present as the viewpoint character. But just to have a viewpoint character present who is affected by and interacts with the environment around them isn't enough to call it showing; the narrative distance with that character is the deciding factor for me.

So, what do I mean by narrative distance? Narrative distance is, by default, related to Point Of View (POV). First Person is the viewpoint character telling a tale about what happened to them; what they felt and saw and did. And First Person--Immediate is as close as narrative distance gets for a viewpoint character. Second Person is a style of POV that is rarely used. The narrator is usually the main character and he is telling his tale in such a manner that you are made to feel that you are that character; you are drawn into the narrative as if you were the main character as opposed to the person telling you their tale. Finally we have the most common POV, Third Person: Here the tale is told by a narrator who, while they can be the viewpoint character, is not the main character--the person the story is about. In most cases, particularly in writings of the Romantic period, Third Person POV has the longest narrative distance of them all. However, with the advent of Modernist and Post-modernist writings that distance has been closed and altered to the point where it is now not only possible but almost required that a writer employ a variable narrative distance.

A variable narrative distance means that as a writer you can begin a scene in the traditional Third Person POV and transition as the scene unfolds until you are, in effect, writing the Third Person narrative in a first person, immediate style; and it is at this close, or should I call it intimate narrative distance, that show is de rigueur. There is a danger in this however: The transition must be clear and concise and so obvious that the reader is not misled or confused into thinking there has been an unexpected change in POV.

When you get into this intimate narrative distance the job of the writer is to put the reader into the skin of the viewpoint character. To me this is what 'show' is all about. If, in your mind's eye, your character is tired, you don't say, “Kurt was tired.” you show me how Kurt is tired: His aching muscles and failing strength, the heavy eyelids that keep closing no matter what he does, his wandering thoughts, the involuntary yawning and lethargy--all of it. In 'show' it is your job to make us feel everything the viewpoint character feels, see everything hie sees and in the same way he sees it, hear everything he hears, smell and taste everything he smells and tastes. We should hear his thoughts as they happen, his fears, his hopes, his dreams, and his nightmares. We should feel every bump and thud and pebble in his shoe, every ache and every pain, every pant and every heartbeat. To me this is what it means to 'show'; we see the word through the thoughts and senses of the viewpoint character without the intervention of a narrator. And this is why your word-count will suddenly quadruple or sextuple when you start adding 'show' to your repertoire. Unless you only show us those things it is really necessary to show us. [Smile]

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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I've recently had some personal revelations that warrant resurrecting this thread, since they're related to the topic in question. I know some of you aren't overly fond of David Farland's blog, but he recently posted a three-part series of entries on appealing to the senses that I found rather interesting.

http://davidfarland.com/2017/01/appealing-to-the-senses/
http://davidfarland.com/2017/01/appealing-to-the-senses-part-2/
http://davidfarland.com/2017/01/appealing-to-the-senses-part-3/

Reading those articles gave me a much stronger idea of what Dave might have meant when he critiqued my story last year and said there were places I told when I could have been showing. I looked the story back over after reading these articles, and there are definitely places where I could expand on descriptions of the senses in order to give the story more life. I'm fairly certain I will (eventually) get said story back from Persistent Visions, at which point I plan to edit it before sending it elsewhere.

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CMcBride68
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Thank you for sharing the links. I frequently have a problem with show vs. tell. Hopefully it will be less of a problem after reading the blog entries.
Carolyn

quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
I've recently had some personal revelations that warrant resurrecting this thread, since they're related to the topic in question. I know some of you aren't overly fond of David Farland's blog, but he recently posted a three-part series of entries on appealing to the senses that I found rather interesting.

http://davidfarland.com/2017/01/appealing-to-the-senses/
http://davidfarland.com/2017/01/appealing-to-the-senses-part-2/
http://davidfarland.com/2017/01/appealing-to-the-senses-part-3/

Reading those articles gave me a much stronger idea of what Dave might have meant when he critiqued my story last year and said there were places I told when I could have been showing. I looked the story back over after reading these articles, and there are definitely places where I could expand on descriptions of the senses in order to give the story more life. I'm fairly certain I will (eventually) get said story back from Persistent Visions, at which point I plan to edit it before sending it elsewhere.


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extrinsic
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Show and tell, Mr. Farland -- not show, don't tell, again, please -- can be too many words to accomplish effective sensory appeals, often is when a writer goes from too little appeal to attempts to lavish attention on the literal in order to achieve the essential figurative appeals. That figurative aspect of show and tell appeal synthesis goes by several labels in writing culture: "telling details" is the more common one; "extended metaphor" is a rhetorical term of similar meaning and recurrent motifs related to an overall theme; and "correlative objective," is rarer, probably because the term is as obtuse as its origins and principles.

The core of each is more or less the same; that is, the use of tangible sensory stimuli to express intangible stimuli and response to it, emotion most of all. In other words, the use of physical sense descriptions to develop, express, and imply, for reader pathos appeals, the substantive difference for creative expression from other composition types, which favor logos and ethos, maybe kleos, appeals over pathos appeals.

Farland's essay notes "kinetic" as a type of sensory appeal, a movement, as it were, from place to place. That is an insight worth analysis and meditation. Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, a semiautobiographical novel in first person, uses kinetic appeals in an especially artful way. Tangible circumstances push and pull agonist motion, senses, and emotional responses forward, backward, and stuck at times in doubt and confusion, and from time and place into time and place, and from situation to situation. The net is Wolff defuses first person's tendency to filter through an unnecessary additional lens of viewpoint agonist as overt narrator.

From "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction"

"Reality is filtered through an extra lens. Instead of saying 'rain poured down' the author writes 'I felt the rain pour down'. A story always has one filter — author telling reader — and good authors generally try to make the author as unobtrusive as possible. Adding this second filter — author telling character to tell reader — is not only uneconomical, it is also often intrusive.

"Feeling trapped into the restriction that all information must come to the point-of-view character, with the result that characters often rush onstage to tell the point-of-view character something. This is even worse than the first problem, because now we have a third filter: character telling character telling author telling reader.

"Confusion between the perception of the author, the narrator (if any), and the POV character. See Author Surrogate."

Instead of "I saw," for example, Wolff straight up and no first-person narrator self-filter lens describes in the bald and now moment, say, a lamp in another room from the one he's in, and emotively. Next, he touches the object and in concert with another agonist, his step father, with whom he verbally contests in a power struggle throughout the novel, the basis of the emotional appeal for the lamp and the kinetic movement from room to room. The motion from room to room, and place to place, and time to time throughout, is implied and accessible -- inferable. This is kinetic motion in all its sensory appeals, visual, aural, tactile, and emotional, plus the all important matters of complication, conflict, and tone stronger than the bare tangible circumstances.

The novel doesn't so much use olfactory or gustatory appeals on their surfaces, rather through whole sensory array inclusions, taste with the eye, smell with the eye and ear, through visual tactile sense hear, touch, taste, and smell and feel emotion, and so on. They and all the sensory descriptions of the novel are "telling details," "extended metaphors," and "correlative objectives."

One gross misunderstanding of "metaphor" in the third Farland essay installment: "In fact, one way to strengthen your appeal is to use strong metaphors, so I might describe how it 'rained down on the roof, falling like buckshot.'" "Like buckshot" is a simile. Metaphor would be is buckshot, not like, though tricky to prevent confusion that the pelting rain is water and not lead shot. //Rain fell on the roof, was loud buckshot droplets battered against the tin.//

A few punctuation errors in Farland's essay, the same error three times: commas that follow sentence start word "Now." The word is an adverb modifying some verb like "see," and not a dependent sentence adverb, doesn't take a comma. "Now[,] can you _see_ how your story can transport your reader into another time and place as you consciously use 'appeals' to various senses?" (first installment)

"Now" takes a comma when it is used as an interjection, the same as a nonsensical discourse marker like "Oh" or "uh" or "well." The nonsensical discourse marker interjection word or phrase use in prose is generally deprecated. For speech, no comma is noted, only the pause to gather thought or interjection uttered to hold the floor from interlopers' interruptions, which are two of discourse markers' speech functions, the other is emphasis.

"As" coordination conjunction error: "A wind kicked up dust on the prairie, _as_ he chopped wood for the morning[,] and he heard distant thunder herald the coming storm." (third installment) Another issue is one of causation inversion. The wood chopping began some indefinite time prior to the wind kicking up this now moment, a matter of indefinite time's static voice, also. Another punctuation glitch, too. The conjunction "and" as is takes a semicolon antecedent instead of the comma. //That morning, he split wood for the day's fire. A wind kicked up dust on the prairie; and distant thunder heralded the coming storm.// No telling details, though, therein nor in the illustration's other sentences. One empty tell, "Fear struck." Fear is an emotion that objective correlatives show through telling details that express the emotions of the moment. And the "he heard" additional unnecessary lens filter.

I think perhaps Farland too much encounters lazy writing habits in the unpolished prose he reads for the WotF contest and it intrudes into his writing-essay writing. The use of sensory stimulus, though, edges toward the profound and sublime. The kinetic sense, movement development anyway, is especially insightful, if only it were illustrated more in depth, like that crawling through barbwire asks for telling detail, extended metaphorical meaning, correlative objective meaning.

Two challenges and bewares for sense appeals, especially emotion; one, tread only as strong as is natural and necessary, or from David Smith's essay "Being a Glossary of Terms Useful in Critiquing Science Fiction": "Chewing the furniture. Characters who are over-emoting for their situations. The term is adapted from the theater, where it is used to describe poor actors who ham it up. (CSFW: David Smith)"

And artless kinetic description: "Here-to-there mistake. Over-describing interim stages because of a mistaken belief that the reader will not infer them. A writer whose character’s eyes are closed, for example, wants to describe something visually and feels compelled to say, ‘he opened his eyes’. Omitting this phrase usually works better — the reader can infer the eye-opening from the visual description. Similarly, ‘he got into the car, put the key in the ignition, started the engine and backed out of the driveway’ is too much description: ‘he got into the car and backed out of the driveway.’"

Not even that latter; it is only a physical motion description, lacks telling detail and kinetic sensibility. The opposite is what Wolff does in This Boy's Life and many other accomplished writers, too.

In all, though, one of Farland's more insightful, profound, and pointed -- focused -- writing essays.

[ January 18, 2017, 09:16 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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Interesting observations, extrinsic. I'll be mindful to avoid going too far in the opposite direction.

Reading those blog posts essentially helped solidify a better understanding of some things I'd been struggling with over the last eight months: namely, the fact that I'd misinterpreted showing and telling in subtle but vital ways, and had started short-changing the viewpoint character's personal experiences as a result. That resulted in a lack of internal conflict, which lowered the depth and power of my stories. I'd already started to realize those mistakes due to critiques of my last story, but these articles helped give me a stronger idea of what problems I was having and how I might better be able to overcome them in future.

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extrinsic
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Cool, Disgruntled Peony; best wishes for productive and effective prose show and tell mastery.

Same wishes to CMcBride68, and all sense-description challenged writers. By the way, the homepage URL on your Hatrack member profile page contains an extra protocol prefix, both an http and https prefix, that results in a page load error when clicked on. Another less problematic consideration is the final forward slash at a URL's end. Some browsers do not compute a final slash, also cause for page load error.

Exceptional production values for the Words and Worlds site. Plus, an appealing method on the current homepage to stimulate site traffic: ask viewers comment-stimulating survey questions that as well imply aesthetic slant without overtly expressing it as a firm and irrefutable personal position. (Octavia Bulter's fiction fits all three question areas and other empowerment rights and social responsibility topics.) Artful (dramatically persuasive) website marketing craft methods all. A prose sample for perusal could further site interest, or spoil interest. Both worlds can be accommodated if offered as a current state of writer ability for illustration more so and less so for critical comment.

[ January 19, 2017, 02:18 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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CMcBride68
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Extrinsic,
Thank you for letting me know the url to my website hadn't been entered correctly. I've fixed it now. Thank you also for your feedback on my site, as well as the information on Octavia Butler.
CMcBride

quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Cool, Disgruntled Peony; best wishes for productive and effective prose show and tell mastery.

Same wishes to CMcBride68, and all sense-description challenged writers. By the way, the homepage URL on your Hatrack member profile page contains an extra protocol prefix, both an http and https prefix, that results in a page load error when clicked on. Another less problematic consideration is the final forward slash at a URL's end. Some browsers do not compute a final slash, also cause for page load error.

Exceptional production values for the Words and Worlds site. Plus, an appealing method on the current homepage to stimulate site traffic: ask viewers comment-stimulating survey questions that as well imply aesthetic slant without overtly expressing it as a firm and irrefutable personal position. (Octavia Bulter's fiction fits all three question areas and other empowerment rights and social responsibility topics.) Artful (dramatically persuasive) website marketing craft methods all. A prose sample for perusal could further site interest, or spoil interest. Both worlds can be accommodated if offered as a current state of writer ability for illustration more so and less so for critical comment.


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Reziac
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Often when a Wise Reader complains that you told when you should have shown, what they really mean is that events got summarized when they should have been played out. This is a common fault when trying to either set or wrap up a scene.
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LDWriter2
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Long time debate.

Reziac has a point.


A new twist to it.

I know of two successful writers who don't worry about it. They do each of the five human senses every two pages and the show part seems to take care of itself.

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