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Being showy in writing (1 Viewer)

alpacinoutd

Senior Member
Hello all.

So as you know, one of the biggest hallmarks of good writing is being showy as opposed to being telly.

I have been struggling with this a little bit because in some situations, I find it difficult not to tell to move the story forward.

Sometimes it's easy:

Telly: He was a rich man. Showy: In his garage, a crimson Ferrari gleamed under the light.

But sometimes it's not possible. Or at least I can't find a way to do it:

1. She radiated charm. >this is telly and I don't know how to make showy.

2. She didn't try to hide the mockery in her voice. >again this is telly.

So in this thread, I would like to ask questions about situations where I find "being showy" difficult.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
She sat on the chair and pulled both feet beside her, toes bent, and crooked her head to one side like an inquisitive bird. She stared at Bob with false accusation, her jaw askew, lips tightly pouted and twirled her hair slowly with a fingers.

"I'm not going to say who I think is my favourite."
"Oh, yeah, like you always struggle with those things, right."
 

alpacinoutd

Senior Member
Thank you. That is exactly what I'm looking for. I think if I ask questions here, that will help me get a better grasp of it. So that was for the irony sentence. The first sentence is a bit more difficult to show. I mean showing how a person radiates a quality.

Also, I often have difficulty showing what is going on inside the character.

Example: Her elation faded as quickly as it came.
Here's how I tried to make it showy: A faint smile crossed he face. She thought about tomorrow and the smile died on her lips.

But sometimes it's more difficult:

A constellation of conflicting emotions churned inside her.

Can I make a sentence like that showy?
 

Crooked Bird

Senior Member
I know this isn't exactly what you asked, but I have to start here: I just want to say, you don't ALWAYS have to "show." All the sentences you're trying to alter are perfectly respectable sentences. It's just that you shouldn't have an entire book made of those kinds of abstract sentences--BUT it's OK to have some. "Tell" sentences are almost always shorter, and in places where it's appropriate to summarize a bit more, those sentences are appropriate. "She didn't try to hide the mockery in her voice" for instance: if it's a really central scene, yeah, get all fine-grained and give us physical details that let us see the mockery, but if she's not one of the main characters and is just saying something in passing, the sentence you've got is fine.

OK. On to the internal feeling sentences. Don't hate abstraction so much that you never name a feeling, but do use more physical symptoms and gestures. Also metaphors if you can come up with them. And thirdly, use the person's perception of other, irrelevant things to give an impression of their feelings.

Her elation faded quickly as it came.

She looked up, for one long moment the world seeming full of light. Then she dropped her eyes and pulled in on herself, remembering.

A constellation of conflicting emotions churned inside her.

(You have to get much more specific and much longer, here, if you want to show. I'm going to make up what the emotions are and what they're about, because otherwise I can't really do anything with it.)

Her stomach hurt and her heart felt light. Somewhere inside her anger fought with joy, [each wrestling the other down in turn, neither winning.] He does love me. But how dare he? How dare he? She tried to control her breathing.
 

Crooked Bird

Senior Member
And thirdly, use the person's perception of other, irrelevant things to give an impression of their feelings.

I notice after the fact that I didn't do much with this third suggestion, except the light in the first sentence. But you actually can do a lot with it: when someone is suddenly happy, they suddenly start to notice that how lovely the sunlight is, or notice the flowers, or reflect how beautiful a loved one's face is and how could they not have noticed that all day till now? When they're feeling something negative, fear or anger or despair, the sunlight might seem glaring, hostile, they might notice how in spite of the roses on the table there's grime in the unswept corners of the floor, and the wrinkles on their wife's face are growing deeper, we're all getting older and death is one day nearer every day...
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Although @AZ's examples were all brilliant, the woman with crooked toes allusion = charm - was rather left field. I don't think I have ever thought about crooked toes before, except for my own crooked toes, teeth, bunion etc, receding hairline
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
Although @AZ's examples were all brilliant, the woman with crooked toes allusion = charm - was rather left field. I don't think I have ever thought about crooked toes before, except for my own crooked toes, teeth, bunion etc, receding hairline

The toes aren't crooked, they're bent. Is the confusion perhaps 'crooked her head to one side like an inquisitive bird'? I'm using is as in 'bent' to one side.

Not crook-ED but crucked.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
Thank you. That is exactly what I'm looking for. I think if I ask questions here, that will help me get a better grasp of it. So that was for the irony sentence. The first sentence is a bit more difficult to show. I mean showing how a person radiates a quality.

Also, I often have difficulty showing what is going on inside the character.

Example: Her elation faded as quickly as it came.
Here's how I tried to make it showy: A faint smile crossed he face. She thought about tomorrow and the smile died on her lips.

But sometimes it's more difficult:

A constellation of conflicting emotions churned inside her.

Can I make a sentence like that showy?

As Crooked bird said, you don't want to be trying to show all the time. 'A constellation of conflicting emotions churned inside her' is a perfectly good sentence. The only thing I'd look at there is the word 'churned'. It kinda fits the theme of the sentence but I'd want to word that did fit the theme. Even 'turned' would suit it better. 'Spiralled' could work too. Other than that though, I'd be chuffed to have put a sentence together like that.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
The toes aren't crooked, they're bent. Is the confusion perhaps 'crooked her head to one side like an inquisitive bird'? I'm using is as in 'bent' to one side.

Not crook-ED but crucked.

I got confused with @crookedbird/crooked overload and bent toes. I'll write more toe stuff in the future because people like it. I'm more into them than I used to be, s'pose.
 

vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
I have been struggling with this a little bit because in some situations, I find it difficult not to tell to move the story forward.

That's precisely because telling IS what moves the story forward more often than not. A lot of what some people regard as "showing" is really just "telling" with verbosity. A few weeks ago I read a great article on the subject which had a summary of reasons to "show" and reasons to "tell". I cracked up when I read one of the reasons to "show":
"If you want your novel to run to 250,000 words." :)

This subject is easily one of the most muddled concepts in writing, and in an opinion I've expressed on the subject before, one of the least important for all the emphasis it gets. You'll find major authors who regard it as not only nonsense, but a "rule" so misapplied it ruins otherwise solid storytelling.

Like anything else in writing, there is a balance to be struck. The question is, how important is the information to telling your story. (See, we don't say, "I'm going to show you a story, we say "I'm going to tell you a story"). ;-) You don't want to go out of your way to "show" incidental information, meaning don't write a paragraph to "show" something that you can "tell" in a sentence. This doesn't mean to neglect making that sentence interesting. Plus, excessive showing can wear out your reader. So again, balance.

I've read article after article on the subject, and I'll have to say they've had very little effect on my writing. I show action. I show important information when I can be more entertaining by showing it, and I may show plot development rather than telling it. I'll give you an example of the latter. Last night I was about to write that one character was going to tell my MC that she would be teaching him things (No, not sex!). If it had been incidental to the story, that would have been fine. However, the meat of this section involves the MC learning things he had no concept existed. I'd written a "telling" sentence, so I deleted it in preference to make the learning process a series of scenes. But what am I really going to be doing? Will it really be showing, or more detailed telling ... where each gained skill is a scene rather than a word? I honestly don't know. LOL And it honestly doesn't matter whether those scenes are labeled as either "showing" or "telling" if I make them interesting.

So how do I see the balance? What's important to the flow of your story? Does it really add color to the scene, or are you just following a rule? There's your litmus test.

ETA: And I wouldn't even say it's a rule. It's a technique to spice up select passages.
 
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EternalGreen

Senior Member
Stuff like "I flew to Bolivia" is NOT getting shown.

I just wrote a short story in which I cruised through 130 years of one character's existence so far. I am not "showing" all of that. I just gave a few moving images of how things went during the boring decades and moved on.

A little trick I used to make inevitable "telling" palatable, is to lace it with as much voice as humanly possible and plenty of poetic language. Telling is often the place for pretty language.
 

vranger

Staff member
Board Moderator
Stuff like "I flew to Bolivia" is NOT getting shown.

And it can be much better to neither show NOR tell it. If you have a character discussing an impending trip, it's fine to start the next scene or chapter at the destination. As you say, there is no reason to describe a trip to the airport, boarding, sitting on the flight, ad nauseum.

Not saying there can't be a valid reason for it. If the character is broke or their passport was stolen, the reader should know how the character overcame an exigent problem. Maybe the character spends time on the trip planning their activities at the destination. All of that is fine if there is a meaty reason to show it. But just "it happened" isn't a good reason.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
For all of the many, many times that this discussion has come up I rarely think about this when writing.

If I just need to say that "I flew to Bolivia" as a quick summing-up or as a surprise, perhaps, when I hadn't expected or didn't want to fly to Bolivia it works just fine.

If the storyline is more about my character's flight to Bolivia, if something happened on the flight to Bolivia that's important to the story, then by all means I'll spend time showing the flight to Bolivia.

Say what you need to say to get the story written. The only time I really am concerned with 'showing vs. telling' is if it comes up in a critique. I know what the person meant and I can see if adjustments need to be made.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
The worst story possible might go like this:

I woke up, poured a cup of coffee, took a shower, grabbed my keys, locked my door, went down the stars, entered my car, started the engine (simile here), fucked with the radio, stopped at a gas station, stood holding the nozzle, paid, drove, parked near the airport, got out of my car, filled through the airport, tied up my hair to evade Mr. Molester TSA agent, waited, boarded, waited for takeoff, ate half a cookie . . .


A somewhat better story might start at the airport on the other end, but even that is tedious. If the PTSD from this bad writing makes you want to cry, sorry.

A good story would start somewhere unexpected, such as a logger deciding whether her life is worth stepping out of the way of that tree.
 

Matchu

Senior Member
I quite liked your story. Radio bit was funny, thumping the radio, I hope, I don't know, no comment.

Some people really struggle with this issue so we should look after them. It's one of those things you have to be tender about, I feel. (a condition & diagnosis, futureways)
 

Crooked Bird

Senior Member
I got confused with @crookedbird/crooked overload and bent toes. I'll write more toe stuff in the future because people like it. I'm more into them than I used to be, s'pose.

LOL every bird is a crooked bird when it comes to toes. :) Birds of prey probably have the crookedest...

That's precisely because telling IS what moves the story forward more often than not. A lot of what some people regard as "showing" is really just "telling" with verbosity. A few weeks ago I read a great article on the subject which had a summary of reasons to "show" and reasons to "tell". I cracked up when I read one of the reasons to "show":
"If you want your novel to run to 250,000 words." :)

This subject is easily one of the most muddled concepts in writing, and in an opinion I've expressed on the subject before, one of the least important for all the emphasis it gets. You'll find major authors who regard it as not only nonsense, but a "rule" so misapplied it ruins otherwise solid storytelling.

Like anything else in writing, there is a balance to be struck. The question is, how important is the information to telling your story. (See, we don't say, "I'm going to show you a story, we say "I'm going to tell you a story"). ;-) You don't want to go out of your way to "show" incidental information, meaning don't write a paragraph to "show" something that you can "tell" in a sentence. This doesn't mean to neglect making that sentence interesting. Plus, excessive showing can wear out your reader. So again, balance.

I've read article after article on the subject, and I'll have to say they've had very little effect on my writing. I show action. I show important information when I can be more entertaining by showing it, and I may show plot development rather than telling it. I'll give you an example of the latter. Last night I was about to write that one character was going to tell my MC that she would be teaching him things (No, not sex!). If it had been incidental to the story, that would have been fine. However, the meat of this section involves the MC learning things he had no concept existed. I'd written a "telling" sentence, so I deleted it in preference to make the learning process a series of scenes. But what am I really going to be doing? Will it really be showing, or more detailed telling ... where each gained skill is a scene rather than a word? I honestly don't know. LOL And it honestly doesn't matter whether those scenes are labeled as either "showing" or "telling" if I make them interesting.

So how do I see the balance? What's important to the flow of your story? Does it really add color to the scene, or are you just following a rule? There's your litmus test.

ETA: And I wouldn't even say it's a rule. It's a technique to spice up select passages.

Yeah, this stuff is really important to understand. Allowing yourself to tell when it's the right time will really help streamline your stories.

Something I learned from a writing book that really helps with this is the concept of scene vs summary. In scenes, you present things in real time, with fully quoted dialogue and individual actions. When you shift into summary--which can be a whole passage ("that month went swiftly as they busied themselves with X & Y activities... spring came on... etc") or just a transition ("when they arrived at the town hall they were ushered in swiftly and shown Z". "by the time she had finished cooking the meal she was just about ready to slap his face"), you make time pass quickly by simply saying what happened over a period of time, and any actions or dialogue are summarized. ("The next day she told him that she planned to move to France, and wouldn't listen to his protests, even walked away while he was speaking.") It's possible to use a bit of showing in summary ("the spring rains came, the daffodils came out, then the lilies,") but it's going to be mostly telling. Heck, even that daffodil bit is kind of telling, it's just less so b/c it has a visual image in it.

So just remember it's OK to shift from scene to summary sometimes (this also helps b/c it means you don't have to have a scene for everything!!), and in summary you're going to be doing a lot of telling & that's OK.

Really the main thing not to tell is stuff the reader is supposed to feel. Don't tell them how to feel. Don't tell them your character is a good person, unless you're doing some twisty POV thing and they're really claiming to be a good person when they're not. Don't tell them your villain is untrustworthy--either they'll believe you because they already noticed, and be annoyed you pointed it out, or they'll disbelieve you because you didn't make the guy act untrustworthy so what is this? Don't tell them a couple truly love each other. That kind of thing.

Anything else, you can tell--just balance it with the showing.
 

alpacinoutd

Senior Member
Thank you everyone for your contribution. So, my main takeaway is that this whole show vs tell business is a delicate balancing act.

What you mentioned about summary and scene got me thinking. This is summary:

She lusted after him for over two years, but he ended up marrying someone else. Now, she wanted to find a way to get back at him. Now, the desire for revenge overpowered her seemingly uncontrollable lust.

If I think it's necessary, can I turn that into a "SHOWY scene"? How?
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
Thank you everyone for your contribution. So, my main takeaway is that this whole show vs tell business is a delicate balancing act.

What you mentioned about summary and scene got me thinking. This is summary:

She lusted after him for over two years, but he ended up marrying someone else. Now, she wanted to find a way to get back at him. Now, the desire for revenge overpowered her seemingly uncontrollable lust.

If I think it's necessary, can I turn that into a "SHOWY scene"? How?

"Showing" doesn't have to be a scene.

I'm lazy, so I'm going to use someone else's writing. This is the first non-scene showing of "lust" I could think of. It's from Le Fanu's Carmilla: (I like this author because I think he/they/she was transgender, but that's another conversation)

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever." Then she had thrown herself back in her chair, with her small hands over her eyes, leaving me trembling.

Notice lines like: "breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration." This is a poetic image but it's not a "scene," technically--it's (part of) a description of what transpired over a few weeks.
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
Thank you everyone for your contribution. So, my main takeaway is that this whole show vs tell business is a delicate balancing act.

What you mentioned about summary and scene got me thinking. This is summary:

She lusted after him for over two years, but he ended up marrying someone else. Now, she wanted to find a way to get back at him. Now, the desire for revenge overpowered her seemingly uncontrollable lust.

If I think it's necessary, can I turn that into a "SHOWY scene"? How?


That would be quite a lengthy few scene. First you'd have to put them in a few situations together to show her lust for him. You'd likely pepper that throughout the bigger picture. Then you'd have a scene of him being married with the jilted there watching. The story could actually evolve into all sorts of scenarios from that point. Show her trying to sabotage their married life. Have her turning up unexpected here and there to show she's stalking him. Other people wouldn't believe it for a while. And then finally, the showdown, which could turn out many ways depending on the genre you've picked.

What you've described there is a 'premise' for a whole story.
 

Bagit

Senior Member
I'm telling a story. Plain and simple. Just who has had a thought-plan and said, "I'm gonna show me a story"?

I try to stay away from holding the reader's hand constantly . . . pulling the fingers and thumbs works much better. Mix and match, swap and switch . . . edits can make a world of difference once you see the path to clearly entertain yourself. The reader's enjoyment of the piece will soon follow.

Showing is when you promote/present/submit your work. j/k (sort of)
 

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