How do you show and not tell in your writing? - Page 2


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Thread: How do you show and not tell in your writing?

  1. #11
    There are those that say "some telling is necessary." I'm not sure I agree. But some telling is not necessarily bad in fiction. It might be better than devoting a chapter to some digression that is necessary to develop a character. But I would say that it is is possible to write a story without any telling, and in my opinion, that's better writing.

    I recently watched a movie with Adam Sandler called "Uncut Gems.' The intensity of the movie is incredible, and that's because there is no "telling." No background is given. The viewer is just dumped into the action and the movie burns from beginning to end. It's very well done.
    .
    Last edited by TL Murphy; February 13th, 2020 at 07:55 PM.

  2. #12
    1st - The idea of show vs tell is gravely overused. Every writer does some amount of showing and telling. No one wants to read a 2000 page book filled with a description of every tiny aspect of the story.

    2nd - The paragraph you posted seems to me like a transition paragraph. I use these kinds of paragraphs to move the story from one position to another, here from childhood and innocence to adulthood and some measure of cynicism and self-doubt.

    3rd - You need to decide for yourself what parts are worth expounding upon and what parts you'll simply tell the reader.
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  3. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by InTheThirdPerson View Post
    The simplest way I think of it is that anything past tense is telling. Anything currently happening is showing. It can be more complex than that, but I feel like this is a good basic start to sprucing up writing.

    For example:

    Susan was still thinking about it the next day. It really had been a romantic dinner. John had gone to the store and carefully selected the meal, brought it home, and prepared it. He had dimmed the lights and even scrounged some candles out of a drawer to set the mood with. It had definitely been a break in their routine, and Susan had to admit that she never expected John to be so adept in the kitchen.

    Versus...

    "Well, if you don't feel like going out, what do you want to do?" Susan asked.

    "I have an idea." John stood and headed for the door. He swiped his keys and helmet off the counter. "Wait here and I'll be right back." With a wry grin and a wink, he was out the door. Susan chuckled and settled back on the couch. She tried to imagine what that man was up to. She grabbed the remote and hoped that whatever it was, it wouldn't take him long. Her stomach was likely to get impatient soon.

    John raced out of the parking lot, nodding his head at Mrs. Aberdine as he sped by. She shook her head in disgust, annoyed by the racket of the motorcycle. He revved the engine just for her and then the apartment complex was behind him. John had an inkling of a plan, but it was all going to depend on the perfect steaks. There was only one store in town he could rely on, but it was half way across town. He'd have to be creative with following the speed limits if he didn't want to keep Susan waiting for an hour.

    (And so on...)


    Obviously I simplified the first a little and maybe started to draw out the second a little more than necessary... but you get the idea. Even if I add a lot more descriptive detail in the first scenario, it won't change the fact that it's something being described in the past. It's hard to be dynamic when describing something that has already happened, which is the trap of "telling." Events in the past lack immediacy and therefore excitement. Describing action as it's happening (showing) tends to be more engaging for the reader.

    Not all "telling" is bad, and not all events need to be described to the reader as something that is currently happening as they read it. But if I have a section of prose that is in the "telling" category and it feels like it might be too much or too boring, I'm basically going to run mentally through a 3-step process: 1. Is this section really necessary? 2. It is? Ok, does it need to be as detailed? 3. It does? Ok, then. Can I retell it in a more engaging way?
    Both of those examples you gave are most definitely in the past tense.

    Tense really has nothing to do with it. Here is a present tense that is all tell:

    ”I love her very much. I do everything for her, anything, she is my world.”

    and here is past tense tell:

    ”I loved her very much. I did everything for her, anything, she was my world.”

    Here is present tense SHOW:

    ”Sweat drips from every inch of my skin as I knock at her door, flowers clenched between quivering fingers, my heart thumping like a madman locked in a room. “I love you,” I blurt, the second the door opens, ”Please don’t leave, I’ll do anything.”

    Past tense show would be identical except in past tense (knocked instead of knock, etc).

    The differences between show and tell come down mainly to language choice. Show uses concrete language, stays focused in the material world for the most part. It works by creating a feeling through trigger points (sweat and trembling hands clutching flowers) rather than spelling out exactly what that means (a hopeless romantic). It’s showing the Mona Lisa without introduction, as opposed to explaining how good a painting it is.

  4. #14
    I would say that the paragraph in question is all telling. Essentially, it's a shortcut to catch the reader up on what you consider essential information to the story but it isn't the actual story. It's background. You, as the author have to decide how important this is to the story you want write. Can this information be deleted? Will the story still work if you don't tell the reader all this info. Can this information (or some of it) be revealed through subsequent action scenes? For instance you could show the subject rifling through exam papers with grades written on them. That's showing instead of telling the reader that he has a "B" average. You could show the subject becoming unraveled in a fast paced scene, rather than telling us that he can't keep up with the pace of society. You could show him getting turned down at a job interview and maybe tossing his diploma in disgust. It all builds character better than explaining the character. It just depends on how much writing you want to devote to development.

  5. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Both of those examples you gave are most definitely in the past tense.
    There's a difference between the overarching immediacy of a scene versus the specific tense of the words used.

    Absolutely no one reads "John raced out of the garage" as something that happened some undefinable time ago. People read it as present tense action, even if "raced" is technically a past tense word. "John had raced out of the garage," on the other hand, suddenly becomes less immediate.


    ”Sweat drips from every inch of my skin as I knock at her door, flowers clenched between quivering fingers, my heart thumping like a madman locked in a room. “I love you,” I blurt, the second the door opens, ”Please don’t leave, I’ll do anything.”
    This type of absolute present tense is not as common in fiction writing (at least within the many books I've read) and the same scene written with more common past tense words would still feel as immediate to the reader.

  6. #16
    If you pick up a mass market paperback off the tiny bestseller shelf in any big box store and highlight all the parts that are telling rather than showing, by whatever definition you decide to use, you'll probably find that between a third and a half of the book is "telling." You could split hairs and suggest that the "telling" parts are "showing" emotion, but that doesn't change the fact that the average author-blogger would still call it "telling."

    So, I think the issue isn't show/tell, which was more useful advice back in the time and place it was first said, but is actually: how do I deliver interesting exposition?

    And for sure, delivering interesting exposition is difficult.

    Two main ingredients I think are:

    1--delivering exposition from the POV of the MC which then shows the emotional state of the MC
    2--waiting until the reader is interested in hearing the exposition.

    For example:

    1--In the age after the fall of the first empire, demons had to be combated by elemental sorcerers who used their powers to fight off any number of different elemental creatures. Fire vs. Ice. Earth vs. Air and so on. They would channel their power through their weapons...

    Reader thinks: wth am I reading...

    I walked up the temple stairs, and a guard with a white smoking sword, fit for slaying earth demons, watched me pass.

    Reader thinks: oh.

    2--I walked up the stairs, and a guard with a white smoking sword watched me pass.

    Reader thinks: white smoking sword? Wait, what's that about?

    The emperor employed many elemental wizards to guard his palace against the variety of demons. I looked at the stone tiled floors beneath my feet and wondered if the guard's air magic enchanted sword was good against earth demons made out of flooring.

    Reader thinks: cool.
    Last edited by JohnCalliganWrites; February 13th, 2020 at 09:43 PM.

  7. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by InTheThirdPerson View Post
    There's a difference between the overarching immediacy of a scene versus the specific tense of the words used.

    Absolutely no one reads "John raced out of the garage" as something that happened some undefinable time ago. People read it as present tense action, even if "raced" is technically a past tense word. "John had raced out of the garage," on the other hand, suddenly becomes less immediate.




    This type of absolute present tense is not as common in fiction writing (at least within the many books I've read) and the same scene written with more common past tense words would still feel as immediate to the reader.
    I feel like using the term "immediacy" or something similar would probably be a good idea. The terms "past tense" and "present tense" already have well-established, useful meanings and trying to use them to mean something else seems likely to lead to confusion.

    And there are a lot of books being written in present tense in some genres - YA comes to mind, but I've also read quite a bit of literary fiction in present tense.

  8. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Bayview View Post
    I feel like using the term "immediacy" or something similar would probably be a good idea. The terms "past tense" and "present tense" already have well-established, useful meanings and trying to use them to mean something else seems likely to lead to confusion.
    Tense also has a well-established meaning in grammar to express time in reference to the moment of speaking. A word can be a past tense verb, but grammatically, a sentence can be interpreted as a present tense thought/action.

    But sure, we can use immediacy to avoid confusion.

    And there are a lot of books being written in present tense in some genres - YA comes to mind, but I've also read quite a bit of literary fiction in present tense.
    Didn't say there weren't. That doesn't change the fact that the use of past tense verbs is the more common form in fiction writing, if for no other reason than the increased flexibility over present tense.

  9. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by darrenptran View Post
    Before I knew it, my college days were coming to an end and the reality of growing up really started to creep up. Sadly, for me, college came and went just like that. The world around me started to become more and more fast paced and I wasn’t ready to handle what was coming. Because of my irresponsibility and laziness, I had completely overlooked the importance of internships and getting the crucial work experience I needed in order to enter the workforce after graduation. Once I graduated, I had nothing to show but a piece of paper that cost me thousands of dollars. I was a B average student and when it was my time to enter the workforce, it was 2012 and during the height of the financial crisis. Jobs were scarce and this was even more true for recent college graduates who did not possess the years of experience that companies had come to expect. Months went by and I still had no luck in securing a job. The worst part of my job search was that it took months before I even got an interview. I applied to jobs after jobs and not once did I hear back from any of those companies. I started to lose faith in myself and in the American Dream.
    It's all a tell, but . . . maybe it wouldn't be as tellish without the topic sentence at the start.

    Or, try telling things in temporal order.
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  10. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by InTheThirdPerson View Post
    Tense also has a well-established meaning in grammar to express time in reference to the moment of speaking. A word can be a past tense verb, but grammatically, a sentence can be interpreted as a present tense thought/action.
    Can you provide that definition's source? You may know more about this than I do. I am struggling to comprehend a (grammatical) 'present' sentence which would be written using words entirely belonging to the past, as your example did.

    I do agree that 'tell' writing tends to be less immediate than 'show' writing but I think that has more to do with the level of concrete detail, the way in which the scene is described, rather than tenses.

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