Friday, March 26, 2010

More Show, Not So Much Tell.

On Monday we talked a bit about show vs. tell. A lot of you commented that you still struggle with this. So I thought I'd play teacher for a day and try to make it a little clearer.

Tell: She stood still, too scared to move, and listened for someone approaching.

Show: She stood frozen in place, red skirt gripped in white knuckles, and struggled to hear anything above the pounding of her own heart.

Analysis: Instead of telling you she is scared, we show it--frozen in place... white knuckles... pounding heart... I am showing you what fear looks and feels like instead of telling you she is afraid.

Here's another.

Tell: Lini was so jealous, she couldn't fall asleep in spite of the fact that she was exhausted.

Show: Lini lay awake late into the night, fighting the little monster of hate plucking at her heart and keeping her aching body from sleep.

Analysis: I am showing you that Lini can't sleep and that she is exhausted... lay awake... keeping her aching body from sleep... because she's incredibly jealous of another woman... little monster of hate plucking at her heart.

Does this help? Is it any clearer or are you still trying to see the bottom of the show vs. tell pond through murky water? I found a few more awesome links on show vs. tell here, here and here.

And don't forget about the QueryTracker contest! The info should post today so hurry on over there after you've finished our session of Show and Tell. And have a wonderful weekend!

--Bethany

38 comments:

Sarah said...

Thanks. This is very helpful. I still find myself doing it all the time but this helps. :)

Jen said...

Wow that was fantastic! Thank you so much for the insight! I'm almost finished with my first draft and revisions will be the big monster I tackle next! This is something I need to remember... showing is important!!

Theresa Milstein said...

Great examples. Thanks.

Slamdunk said...

Ahh, practical examples. Excellent tips--thanks.

Bish Denham said...

Great examples. Thanks!

Yunaleska said...

The examples really help make it clear what showing and telling are like. Thank you.

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Great examples! Thanks! Everyone seems to talk about show vs tell but to see examples helps a bunch :)

Steena Holmes said...

Great examples! Sometimes we need to 'see' it before we get it .. lol

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Examples make ALL the difference. Thanks, ladies. :-)

Cheree said...

Great examples. This stuff will really come in handy, thanks.

Crimey said...

Agreed. Great examples. Thanks!

OfficeGirl said...

Thanks Bethany, for the cool info, it really helps. You know even though my mind gets the whole 'show vs. tell' circus, my brain still does the telling! I suppose it's a work in progress.

JEM said...

Thanks for the lesson! I've got an even harder one for you, though: first person show not tell. How to handle the balancing act of describing "yourself" without sounding like the third person narrative. Do you have any examples for that?

Olivia Carter said...

What great examples of show not tell. I seriously forget this all the time. A lot of it gets fixed when I got back and revise.

Thanks for the reminder!

Matthew Rush said...

Hi Suzette. I just found your blog when I noticed you became a follower of mine. So I stopped by to return the favor. Thank you.

Regarding your post I still do struggle with this a little sometimes. You've used some great examples but I do have a question (sort of).

For me it feels like if I do too much showing my prose becomes a little purple and then things stretch on too long. I have a real problem with being too long winded so that doesn't help either. Not really a question I guess but it is what it is.

Great advice though, I will keep trying to improve my showing without inflating the word count too much.

Matthew Rush said...

Oops. I just came to the blog because Suzette became a follower of mine and now I just realized that this is Bethany's post I commented on. Sorry about that.

Carolyn V. said...

Bethany, thanks so much for the examples! Love it! =)

Suzette Saxton said...

Hey, no problem, Matthew. Bethany and I grew up answering to each other's name. With a total of 6 kids in the fam, our mom was always calling us by the wrong name, and we never minded it a bit. ;) (And BTW, our brother's name is Matthew, so we even answered to that!)

Here's an article that Carolyn Kaufman did on the QueryTracker blog that might help answer your question:

http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2010/02/but-how-do-you-feel-about-that.html

Thanks, all, for you comments!!! (JEM, I'll let Bethany address your question.)

Hope you all have a great weekend.

bookaholic said...

Lovely post-very helpful :)

Kayeleen said...

Thanks for this. It's a clear difference, but hard to see in our own writing sometimes.

Christina Lee said...

good stuff, ladies!

Tracy said...

I love the examples. I always find them so helpful. Back in my earlier writing, I heard about show vs. tell, and I was all "So glad I don't do that" but when I reread my MS it was all over the place. Thankfully it was before I started querying and hopefully I'm lots better than I used to be, haha.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Great post on a confusing subject. Thanks for the info on the QT contest too.

Angie said...

Great examples. You may notice that both the telling examples have "was" in them. That's usually something to watch for.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great examples! I do a whole round of editing specifically looking for telling instead of showing. Don't always catch them all though.

Palindrome said...

Those are great examples. I do a pretty good job at showing in final drafts but when I'm just trying to get thoughts down, I do a ton of telling.

L.T. Elliot said...

Do you believe there is ever an acceptable place for more "tell" than "show"?

Keliah said...

Great examples! I always thought it helped to sometimes act out what your characters might do in a scene, just in cause you get tripped up: i.e., if nervous or panicked, bite the nails or repeatedly tap the fingers on the desk or something like that.

Anything that shows what you're trying to convey without actually telling 'I/He/She is nervous'. I learned that in a my few college acting courses. You know, when I tried going down that road! Lol.

Keliah said...
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Elana Johnson said...

Yes, great examples! The thing is, you can FEEl more when you show. And for me, that's what keeps me turning the pages. I need to be emotionally invested.

:)

Bethany Wiggins said...

From Jem: How to handle the balancing act of describing "yourself" without sounding like the third person narrative. Do you have any examples for that?

Jem, Remember this is just me personally speaking, but when I write from first person, I'll have my character compare herself to things around her or look in the mirror. "I got my hair from my dad. Pale as wheat. Add to that the curse of Mom's curls..." Or, "I look in the mirror above the shelf and yank off the hat. Static makes the curls around my face stand on end." Or a side character will add in the description... "Is her hair really that unseemly shade of black, or does she dye it?"

From Anonymous: Good concept to post on, however it seems like all your examples are fairly telling.

Anonymous, Thanks for the comment! In her protective, big-sisterly way, my sister removed your comment. I thought is was great so I'll respond. I would love to see your ideas on show not tell! You can even post them anonymously... but you can also post them as yourself and I will never hold it against you. Seriously. I have been torn to shreds over my writing by some of my closets friends. Even my husband! I never said I was an expert on show vs tell. I'm only, in my humble way, trying to help other writers see it the way I do. Your added wisdom would be awesome!

From L. T. Elliot:Do you believe there is ever an acceptable place for more "tell" than "show"?

L.T., I believe you have to have a balance of BOTH show and tell. It would be almost impossible to do only showing. That's what movies are for. And that's why movies are never as good as the books--because they ONLY show. I think a lot of showing, plus a lot of telling is ideal. Yet every opinion differs!

Juliegoose said...

This helped immensely. After reading your post this week I've been actually worrying about this in my own writing. I looked up a bunch of different sites to get an idea of the definite difference, but your comment was so straight forward it explained it simply. Thanks so much!

Medeia Sharif said...

Great comparisons between show and tell. I remember I did a lot of telling in my early writing tells.

Alyssa Kirk @ Teens Read and Write said...

Great post! I love specific real world examples!

Sharon Mayhew said...

Wonderful post! Thanks for the demonstration.

Peggy Shumway said...

Great post! Showing breathes life into our fiction.

AchingHope said...

Thanks, Bethany. This WAS really helpful. I need to keep this in mind.

Peggy said...

Thanks for the examples! They were great!