Posts Tagged ‘showing vs telling’

Balance


2010
06.21

As I eagerly await the arrival of my twins (anytime between now and July), I struggle with finding time to write, read, blog, etc.

See, my wife is basically on bed rest, so that means I have to work, come home, do laundry, dishes, dinner, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining at all (I would MUCH rather be picking up the slack than be the one pregnant… hand down!), I’m just preluding my point that finding balance has been the name of the game as of late; balance between work, chores, kids, wife and me time (which ranks low on the “necessity” scale) has been rough.

Earlier today, I was reading P.D Wright’s blog, and she has a guest post by David Oliver (GREAT post on slang, ninja’s, and writing). His post discusses the importance of avoiding contemporary terms in a fantasy (or futuristic) novel.  I suggest you check it out, then come back to read the rest of this… go ahead, I’ll wait. 🙂

Welcome back! Where was I… oh yes, balance. So his post got me thinking, “How can you remove all contemporary terms, but still have your contemporary this-world readers understand it all?” The answer is simple: you can’t.

Don’t let me detract from David’s post here. I don’t mean to say that you can throw caution to the wind and write however you like, rather, there are a certain amount of words and phrases that you will NEED to use in order to have your reader follow the story. You should strive, however, to remove as many unnecessary euphemisms as you can, and even create new one as David suggests. All in all, this is going to be a balance. Somewhere between losing your readers because they don’t understand you, and losing your readers because you continuously rip them from the story, there is a perfect balance.

That got me thinking about other aspects of writing, and it occurred to me, that ALL of writing is balance. Between word economy and wordcrafting (could also be thought of as the difference between showing and telling), between over describing so your reader has to use ZERO imagination, and using too little so they can’t picture anything, and between foreshadowing too much so the event loses its impact, or too little, and the event seems either hokey, out of place, or just unbelievable.

The examples go on and on, but they all boil down to balance. I think that they key to GREAT writing, is mastering this balance. This is what I strive for whenever I open my word processor.

When anyone figures out how to master that balance, be sure to let me know. I’m having a rough time trying to figure it out. 😉

Show vs Tell! Woo hoo!


2010
04.21

Showing versus telling has been the issue of the week. I have been going back and forth in a healthy debate between two friends and writers, Ryan Wilson and Toff (check out Ryan’s post to catch up on the details).

I am going to hash out what I think telling is, and you, the reader, may watch, laugh, make fun, and eventually, agree.  🙂

See, most often show vs. tell is applied to either action or emotion. Rarely is it brought up for description. Why? Why should description get off so easy? Dialog and monologue get a free ride, because the character is actually thinking or speaking the exact text that is written, so it is out of the picture all together. Description, however, should not get away free and clear.

Look at the following example:

“He was tall.”

vs.

“He ducked through the doorway as he entered the room.”

Most would say the first is not telling. Why? Because it is description (in Ryan’s case, it is telling because it is ambiguous). I say it is telling, because the narrator is just telling the reader a fact. To show, is to have action (a point that Toff will kill me later for saying). If there is not action — even invisible action (say, blood pumping) — then you are not watching (which I would assume if you are “showing,” then I need to be “watching”).

If you just tell me, I didn’t see anything.

Let’s look at another example:

“She has blonde hair.”

vs.

“She pulled her blonde hair behind one ear and continued to study.”

In the first sentence, nothing “happens,” so there is nothing to watch (hence, nothing is being shown). In the second sentence, there is something to watch, so we are being shown.

Lastly, a more difficult example:

“I tripped over a man. He was bloody from head to toe.”

vs.

“I tripped over a man who was bloody from head to toe.”

While iffy, the second is not telling. Here’s why.

“I                    kicked         a man.              He                     was                       bloody from head to toe.”

Subject     predicate      object.            Subject      (linking verb)       prepositional phrase (as an adverb)

“I                    kicked        a man      who was bloody from head to toe.”

Subject     predicate      object      prepositional phrase (as an adverb)

In the second sentence, there is action covering the whole sentence. Big difference. That brings me to my first rule of telling: a sentence that has a linking verb, with no other verbs, is telling.

I realize that my English skills are… questionable. If anything here is incorrect (as far as how I broke apart the sentence), please let me know. Additionally, I would love to hear your opinion on the matter. Post up and let’s see what happens!

*P.S. I am quite aware that my opinion is just that, and as I learn, I may decide that this is completely bogus, and my friends are correct.