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Show and tell (1 Viewer)

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Phoenix Raven

Senior Member
Sometimes I will use a tell when the action or thing seems redundant. One example is when I have my character walk up to a farm house. Sure I can describe the house in detail and say the land was carefully seeded with tall stalks of corn, but we all know what a farm is and describing the farm seems like a waste of the readers time. At least in my story it does. There are times when I prefer to take the longer rout and show the reader, but sometimes it's hard for me to think of the right method of doing so.

In this sentence I want to show the reader that Nuri is very wet cold and tired. I started out with this:

Nuri was exhausted but could not allow herself to rest. She lifted the tiny blonde and flung her over her shoulder. “Stay with me Scout, I can’t do this alone,” Nuri shouted.

This is just awful and an obvious tell, but I often write like this in my first draft to get the ideas on paper before I forget. This needs to be more Show than tell, because it's important to me. So here is my revision.

Nuri Knelt over her unconscious friend for a moment, her arms covered in goosebumps. She shivered while panting, her breath visible as it left her purple lips. She rubbed her hands together briefly then wrapped her arms around her unconscious friend. She lifted the tiny blonde and flung her over her shoulder. “Stay with me Scout, I can’t do this alone,” Nuri shouted.

This revision may not be perfect, but I think it's way better without being meaningless filler. What do you think? any ideas or suggestion on how to make a character look cold and tired without telling?
 

Sam

General
Patron
Show them rubbing their hands together, blowing on them, shivering, yawning, not being able to keep their eyes open.

Don't, however, get bogged down with showing everything.
 

Phoenix Raven

Senior Member
Show them rubbing their hands together, blowing on them, shivering, yawning, not being able to keep their eyes open.

Don't, however, get bogged down with showing everything.

Thanks, and yeah I think all show and no tell can make for a really long dull read.
 

J.T. Chris

WF Veterans
Show and Tell is just something they tell new writers in order to get them familiar with utilizing imagery. Once you know what you're doing, you find yourself not really worrying about it anymore.
 

LeeC

WF Veterans
Being a life long reader, along the vein of J.T., I roll my eyes (respectfully) at all the regurgitated "show" dogma, believing each has their place depending on style, storyline, and situation. For example, their are few authors I've enjoyed reading that predominantly employed a show style (and can't even think of their names at the moment), but I remember authors like Garrison Keillor that struck an enjoyable balance, and authors like Willem Lange and Leopold that used all tell to great advantage.

Now I'm not much on theory, and maybe Sam could explain why tell works so well depending on style and storyline, but I know what I enjoyed reading. If I were to post something like one of Willem Lange's tales, no doubt a good number of dogma writers would tell me how I should employ show to greater advantage.

The point being that to me developed style, storyline, and situation are what is pertinent, not some some overarching dogma. That is, what really brings the story to life in your mind. Where you have doubts, try different combinations of show and tell till the situation comes alive in your mind.

Maybe not the greatest advice, but what works for me. Of course I also tend to gage my own perception by other's reactions, relative to what I see in their writing ;-)

I do (personal proclivity) try to stay away from such as "Nuri shouted," though I'm not always successful in bringing out tone otherwise ;-)
 

Bishop

WF Veterans
Nuri Knelt over her unconscious friend for a moment, her arms covered in goosebumps. She shivered while panting, her breath visible as it left her purple lips. She rubbed her hands together briefly then wrapped her arms around her unconscious friend. She lifted the tiny blonde and flung her over her shoulder. “Stay with me Scout, I can’t do this alone,” Nuri shouted.

Personally, I find this somewhat needless. I might be more of a minimalist in my own writing, but this is five sentences that could be one or two, and still be fine.

Nuri knelt over her friend, ignoring her own icy shivers as she hefted the girl over her shoulders. "Stay with me, Scout... I can't do this alone."

Meh, maybe mine would be better as three sentences, breaking it up a little--but how much detail do we need? Showing is often preferred, but if one does -nothing- but showing, the reader's going to get bored. It's overstimulating, and bogs down narrative at times. I've long been feeling there's a lot of strength in proper 'telling' technique, and a good writer doesn't just 'show instead of tell', but rather knows when to use which of the two.
 

shadowwalker

WF Veterans
When to show and when to tell depends on what's important for the reader to know. As you stated, details of the farm aren't that important; understanding the degree of difficulties Nuri was having is important. So that's the first question to answer when in doubt about show versus tell. The next question is how much detail is needed if you choose 'show'. You don't need to catalog all the 'symptoms' of being very cold to get the point across ;) Learning to recognize repetition can help here. Are you describing different things to create a whole picture, or just describing the same thing in different ways? In your example, you describing the same thing. If, instead, you added Nuri's view of the terrain, the weather itself (windy, snowing?), you would be painting a more complete picture for the reader. But the main point when using show is not to get carried away with your own words.
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
I'm a firm believer in the "Show, don't tell" maxim. But, I also believe in the strength of simplicity and precision.

So, for me, the motto is more like: "Show, don't tell—but keep it crisp and punchy." :D
 

Jeko

WF Veterans
I think it's way better without being meaningless filler.

I think it's way worse because it contains a lot of meaningless filler. The narrative takes so long for her to get to helping her 'unconscious friend' that she seems incredibly slow and unresponsive, which doesn't match with the dramatic 'stay with me' shouting and the 'cant allow herself to rest' commentary; she clearly rests for a few sentences, since she's doing nothing but showing the reader how tired she is. If a film was like this, wouldn't you get bored of the scene?

Shivering, Nuri lifted the tiny blonde and pulled her over her shoulder. “Stay with me Scout. I can’t do this alone,” she panted.

Though you could write it to this length in a hundred different ways, I think this 'shows' everything you want to show, and keeps a sense of urgency. 'Flung' is replaced with 'pulled' for me because you can't fling something much when you're exhausted - pulled implies more of a strain, less strength in Nuri, which makes her seem more tired, verified by' 'panted' (though you may want to remove the dialogue tag completely - the speech would be fine without 'she said' or anything like that).

After this you can move on to further actions that reinforce her wet/cold/tired state. Don't try to make the reader certain of a character's condition in a single action; else, you'll bog the action down. Spread descriptions over what is happening and we'll keep moving with the story without being able to get away from how she feels, which will create a stronger bond between reader and character than any block of 'you have to get this!' showy writing will.
 
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Terry D

Retired Supervisor
Show and Tell is just something they tell new writers in order to get them familiar with utilizing imagery. Once you know what you're doing, you find yourself not really worrying about it anymore.

Well said. I'd just add that 'show' doesn't need to be long, wordy descriptive passages. Show is anything that conjures an image in the mind of the reader. The best writers can do it with a short phrase, or even a single word.
 

Morkonan

WF Veterans
...This revision may not be perfect, but I think it's way better without being meaningless filler. What do you think? any ideas or suggestion on how to make a character look cold and tired without telling?

I think it's better, but there are many more things to consider than just "Show" vs "Tell."

"Pacing" is a big one. If you're going fast and furious, like if they were running through a storm, you've got to keep that pacing, just for the effect of it, right? Run, run, pant, pant, quick though, pant, run, "I'm so tired", run, pant... But, if you break your pacing to have a "Show" interlude, the effect is wasted.

So, there are times when it's a "judgement call." Important things, really important things, are the sorts of things you're going to want to show. For instance, if this moment of exhaustion is particularly important in the development of the character and in how the Reader empathizes with them, you're going to... Yes, that's right - Show them that. But, if the pacing is more important and the Reader has already been shown their state, that little bit of "exhausted" ain't gonna hurt nobody. :)

Take your passage, read it over, starting with the beginning of the scene and reading through to the end. Does changing your passage, either way, have a desired effect? Keep the effect that is desired, no matter which you use.

"Style" is certainly another issue. You might want to bring a rich, flavorful, experience to the Reader, willingly distracting them with sights and sounds they have to figure out. They might even thank you for that. But, even with such a Style, there's going to be a time when using a more direct "Tell" is more desirable. Should you enslave yourself to Showing? No. Should you try to Tell as much as you can? No. Neither extreme is always good. It's usually best to Show more than Tell, but Telling has it's uses.

A few observations:

Showing commonly has more impact with characters than with anything else.

Be appropriate in focusing your Reader's interest. Telling is good for normal, everyday, sorts of things. But, one doesn't just "Tell" about the "big scary castle" that is in the last scene and is the focus of the plot. When you're Showing something, the Reader's interest is going to increase, so make it increase in appropriate areas. "Brooms" are Told, "Lairs of pure evil and malice" are Shown.

In your first edit, make 10% of your Tells into Shows. You'll probably improve things 10%. :) But, if you make 90% of your Tells into Shows during your first edit, either you didn't write very well during the first draft or you've just added a bunch of fluff. :)
 

Phoenix Raven

Senior Member
I think it's better, but there are many more things to consider than just "Show" vs "Tell."

"Pacing" is a big one. If you're going fast and furious, like if they were running through a storm, you've got to keep that pacing, just for the effect of it, right? Run, run, pant, pant, quick though, pant, run, "I'm so tired", run, pant... But, if you break your pacing to have a "Show" interlude, the effect is wasted.

Your right about pacing, and I think so many of you are preferring my first tell draft over my show draft is because your not seeing everything that lead to that paragraph. I'm not ready to post the whole chapter on the forum, but to me this longer pause with Nuri resting makes a lot of sense. So much has happened to lead to this part that I posted. Yes I can and will trim it down a little. I think the part about goose bumps can go. I honestly can't use the word goose bumps without thinking of that silly internet meme of that young girl holding those books with the "ermahgerd" caption.

- - - Updated - - -

Here is a revision using many of your suggestions trimming the fat.
Yes I think this is better. Thanks everyone for your feedback and help.

Nuri Knelt over her unconscious friend for a moment, shivering while panting. Her breath visible as it left her purple lips. She wrapped her arms around her companion dragging the tiny blonde over her shoulder. “Stay with me Scout, I can’t do this alone."
 

Sam

General
Patron
Nuri Knelt over her unconscious friend for a moment, shivering while panting. Her breath visible as it left her purple lips. She wrapped her arms around her companion dragging the tiny blonde over her shoulder. “Stay with me Scout, I can’t do this alone."

You can't shiver and pant at the same time. If you're shivering, your teeth are chattering. How can you pant if your teeth are chattering?

This is what happens when people take "show, not tell" literally.
 

Phoenix Raven

Senior Member
I'm not going to point at anyone specifically because this has been a constant on this forum since I joined with many different residence. While we all post on here inviting and expecting feedback, opinions, and criticisms, there are those who always take the opposite extreme. And not just with what I post, but with anyone, so I don't take it personally.

If bob posts a short story with some exposition then it's too much exposition. If Sara posts a story with some tells then Sara is told to show not tell. If Rick posts something with that can be considered perfect by the most worldly intellectual writing scholar on earth, someone will find something extremely wrong with it. Everyone's opinion is different and that is perfectly fine. But, to criticize without any suggestion on how you would improve the piece just looks like trolling to an outsider. If you have a criticisms then please offer a helpful suggestion with your critique, otherwise you should keep the opinion to yourself.

I expect even more from veterans and admins when they respond, and most respond very well with excellent advice. To those I say thank you kindly.
If this ruffles anyone's feathers I am sorry. but I needed to point out the obvious. It's a bad habit, I know.

There are all kinds of rules out there for creative writing. Like never use the word 'suddenly'. as in; Jane walked down the dark alley, suddenly there was a loud noise behind her.
There is this whole long article about suddenly being a faux pas in creative writing and that the same sentence would work just as well without the word suddenly.

Then there are people who despise descriptions in a story, saying it kills the action, but I love reading about the characters. Many of the greatest novels use at least some description. to help the reader see the authors vision of the story.
The Hobit's description of Gandalf for example.
He had a tall pointed blue hat, a long grey cloak, a silver scarf over which a white beard hung down below his waist, and immense black boots.

So I wont ever please everyone. I do not even want to please everyone. That would just be weird.

I did revise once more trimming it down a tab more, but now I'm happy with it. I wont need to revise it further.

Nuri Knelt over her unconscious friend while shivering, her breath visible as it left her purple lips. She wrapped her arms around her companion, dragging the tiny blonde over her shoulder. “Stay with me Scout, I can’t do this alone."
 

Sam

General
Patron
I teach creative writing. If one of my students does something I feel is incorrect, I tell them.

You wanted advice on showing. I gave you advice on showing. That sentence as you have it right now is wrong. Not from a showing perspective, or a telling one, but from an anatomical one. You can't shiver and pant at the same time. Therefore, that sentence makes no sense. It has nothing to do with pleasing everyone or rules. It has to do with realism.

It would be like saying that someone sneezed with their eyes open. It's anatomically impossible.

You're the one who asked for advice and shared that sentence. If you didn't want people to help, I don't understand why you posted it in the first place. No one says you have to listen to what anyone here says, but if you post for critique or advice, you can't always expect people to say that everything is copacetic. That's not how critiquing works.
 

Phoenix Raven

Senior Member
I teach creative writing. If one of my students does something I feel is incorrect, I tell them.

You wanted advice on showing. I gave you advice on showing. That sentence as you have it right now is wrong. Not from a showing perspective, or a telling one, but from an anatomical one. You can't shiver and pant at the same time. Therefore, that sentence makes no sense. It has nothing to do with pleasing everyone or rules. It has to do with realism.

It would be like saying that someone sneezed with their eyes open. It's anatomically impossible.

You're the one who asked for advice and shared that sentence. If you didn't want people to help, I don't understand why you posted it in the first place. No one says you have to listen to what anyone here says, but if you post for critique or advice, you can't always expect people to say that everything is copacetic. That's not how critiquing works.

you see i revised it again right? are you saying its still wrong now? it doesn't mention panting. i didn't care for the panting much either. it made the character sound like a dog.
 

shadowwalker

WF Veterans
But, to criticize without any suggestion on how you would improve the piece just looks like trolling to an outsider. If you have a criticisms then please offer a helpful suggestion with your critique, otherwise you should keep the opinion to yourself.

I'm not sure what suggestion would go with Sam's comment, since it pointed out a physical fact. I hope you wouldn't need someone to tell you, point blank, "Take out either the panting or the shivering.". I typically give examples of how to correct some problem I find, but even I wouldn't add more to that comment.
 
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Kyle R

WF Veterans
In this sentence I want to show the reader that Nuri is very wet cold and tired.
...
What do you think? any ideas or suggestion on how to make a character look cold and tired without telling?
...
Nuri Knelt over her unconscious friend while shivering, her breath visible as it left her purple lips. She wrapped her arms around her companion, dragging the tiny blonde over her shoulder. “Stay with me Scout, I can’t do this alone."
You're showing cold, but you haven't shown wet or tired.

Just pointing that out, as food for thought.

To add in wet and tired, I'd rewrite it like:

Nuri shivered as she knelt over her unconscious friend, cold water dripping off the tip of her nose. Her clothes stuck to her skin like cellophane. Her breath plumed from her mouth in jagged puffs. She wrapped her arms around her companion and struggled to lift her limp body. “S-stay with me Scout," she stammered. "I can’t do th-this alone."

Just something to mull over. Hope anything in there proves useful! :encouragement:
 

Phoenix Raven

Senior Member
The wet and tired are shown pretty well in a previous paragraph, She emerges from a swollen river in the scene before this.
Thank you for the cool ideas though.

cold water dripping off the tip of her nose. Her clothes stuck to her skin like cellophane. Her breath plumed from her mouth in jagged puffs.

I really like the water dripping description. I may need to incorporate that somewhere. The clothes sticking is cool too though I may rewrite is as clinging like a second skin since it's a medieval fantasy and cellophane would not exist.
 
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