Monday, 28 January 2013

Guest Post - Becca Puglisi from the Bookshelf Muse is Showing Not Telling


First of all a big welcome to Becca Puglisi from The Bookshelf Muse, (click here to view her fantastic blog) who has kindly agreed to do a guest post for me today and again on Wednesday 30th. Anyone who has visited her blog or read The Emotion Thesaurus will understand why I am excited to read her words of wisdom!
Today Becca (all the way from sunny from Florida) will be talking to us about 'Showing Not Telling'.

Over to you, Becca.

 
What's Telling and What's Wrong With It?

Simply put, "telling" is telling the reader something. The country was in turmoil. My sister has no manners. Angela is a lunatic. You have to get these things across in the story, so what's wrong with just telling the reader?

Telling usually explains everything right off the bat. There are certain venues where you want people to explain things as simply as possible: when they're giving directions or explaining a calculus lesson; when you're on the phone with your neighbor who never stops talking and The Walking Dead starts in 30 seconds. But in fiction, telling is a form of talking down to the reader; it doesn't give him/her any credit. At worst, repeated telling says to the audience, "I'm not entirely sure that you're capable of getting the point if I write it with any subtlety, so let me make it really simple." At best, it's a sign that you’re unsure of your own ability to make yourself understood without using the simplest of words. Neither message is one you want to send.

2.      Telling oftentimes interrupts the flow of the story. Consider one of the statements from above: Angela is a lunatic. If the author has to explain this in so many words, she has probably stopped telling the story to do so. When she's done, the story will commence, but in the meantime, the pace has jerked to a stop, taking the reader's attention with it. Another something that you want to avoid.

3.      Telling doesn't usually draw the reader in because it doesn't include details, emotion, or anything unique. Do you know someone who's a really good storyteller? My husband tells great stories; granted, they're usually embellished for effect, but that's what makes them so interesting—lots of emotion and hand-waving and little details, smattered with weird vocabulary to give it his own personal flair. When he tells a story, people get totally into it. This is what we want to achieve with our writing.

 
What's Showing and Why Is It Preferred?

The alternative to telling is showing, which conveys your point to readers in a way that pulls them in and is far more interesting than simply stating a fact. It usually gets more information across, too. Here are a few examples contrasting showing and telling, pulled from my own writing not because I'm convinced of my literary genius, but because, sadly, I have ample telling examples to choose from.

 
Example 1:

·         Telling: Nerien was frustrated.

·         Showing: Nerien jerked upright in bed and reached out, but only felt crumpled blankets and the heave of his own chest. He fell back and groaned into his pillow. Why? Why did he always wake up before the dream ended?

 
In this example, I could have told the reader that Nerien was frustrated.
But saying it doesn't evoke that emotion; it merely states it. Instead, showing his state of mind draws the readers in, helps them to feel the character's frustration via the sensation of jerking upright, the feel of crumpled sheets in one’s fist, and the heaving of the chest. Showing is also more active and immediate.

 
Example 2:

·         Telling: It was a noisy river.

·         Showing:

      The sturdy stone bridge had no railing. Dara stood at the edge, watching the gentle Supine River turn crazy and wild where the river from Frost Berth joined it. It was particularly loud just below, where a branch had become tangled in the grasses near the pillars. The water gurgled and choked around it. Or was it the branch that was choking?

      Dara touched the soft scars that marred her upper arm. She felt a certain kinship with that branch. She was often choking these days, but it wasn't water that squeezed her.

 
As this example illustrates, showing isn't used only for emotion. It really could be used in all areas of description, from describing settings and characters to explaining relationship dynamics to strengthening dialogue.

 
Okay. So that’s telling and showing. But how do you identify the telling parts of your story and show them instead? Since this post is getting a little long, these questions will be answered in part two.

 Thanks for having me, Wendy! 



You're welcome, Becca. Look forward to reading part two on Wednesday.

 













49 comments:

  1. I don't think telling is always bad. A whole story told rather than shown would be rather flat, but this device has it's place.

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  2. I totally agree Patsy. Did I hear somewhere the statistic 60/40 (show/tell) or did I imagine that! Actually I suppose it depends on who you're writing for.

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  3. Hi, Patsy! I agree that there are definitely times where telling is appropriate. I'll cover those in the next post :)

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  4. Replies
    1. Thanks for popping over, Jessica

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    2. Oh, Jessica has a great resource for Show-Don't-Tell that includes many examples of how to show instead of telling. It's called Show & Tell in a Nutshell. Check it out for more info!

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    3. Aw, so sweet of you to mention that! :-) PS: congrats on the 20,000 copies sold of Emotion Thesaurus! You must be THRILLED!

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    4. Your book Show and Tell in a Nutshell is now on my kindle - thanks!

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  5. Great post. Your words are inspiring.

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    1. So glad you're finding the info useful!

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  6. Love this post and will be sharing it with my writing group!

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  7. Great examples! There is a place for showing, and there's a place for telling. Telling's great for skipping over boring stuff, like, "They drove five hours and reached San Diego at sundown."

    I see so many new authors who rely on telling for EVERYTHING. I recently previewed a book where the guy and the girl go on their first date, and there's no dialogue. It's all telling. No feel for the characters, just a distant camera shot of two people at a restaurant table.

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    1. That's a good example of when telling is better than showing. There definitely are times. :)

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  8. Thank you Jeanette, Linda and Kessie for popping over to visit my blog - and for your comments.

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    1. You're welcome, Wendy. I'll be back, I'm following this blog now.

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  9. Show Don't Tell was one of my biggest learning curves. I understood what it meant, but it was the "when" to show and tell that I struggled with.

    Thanks so much for having Becca here today, Wendy! :)

    Angela

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    1. It has been my pleasure, Angela. I am writing a short story at this moment (in wet and windy England) and Becca's post today has really helped me to keep my eye on the ball with regard to the 'showing' part. It think it will be especially useful to new writers.

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  10. Wonderful explanation, very clear too. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks for visiting all the way from Mexico, Al - glad you found Becca's post useful.

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    2. I'm glad it was clear, lol. I tend to wander drunkenly between vague/cryptic and spelling things out. ;)

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  11. This was a great post. I agree, it was very clear and I loved your examples.

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    1. Hi, Natalie! Thanks for stopping by :)

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  12. Natalie, I'm gald you enjoyed Becca's post. Thanks, Wendy for following my blog.

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  13. Good stuff - thanks Becca! Wendy - it's good to meet you, thanks for hosting! Looking forward to Wednesday's post.

    So Becca, this person named Angela, the one that is a lunatic, is this anyone we know? :) Just wondering...

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    1. Glad you've enjoyed Becca's post, Karen. Good to meet you too.

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  14. I'm getting better at catching myself when I write. Often I tell when I write the first draft, and go back to show later on.

    Great post, Becca. :)

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    1. Me, too. "Eradicate telling" is one of the points on my revision list. I'm getting better at not doing it the first time around, but a few always slip through.

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    2. I usually try and do it as I go along,Stina - but it doesn't always work!

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  15. Thanks for the great post, Becca - good examples to show us what you mean!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed Becca's post, Rosemary - more on Wednesday!

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  16. What a lovely guest and a great reminder of the difference between showing and telling ... the trouble i find with telling is that is is so easy to slip into. Showing requires more work, which is why, I suppose, it is more engaging to read. That said, telling doesn't have to be boring, does it? Thanks, Wendy and nice to meet you, Becca :o)

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    1. I think the students on your creative writing course would find Becca and Angela's blog interesting, Marianne - especially when they come to the week on 'Show Not Tell'.

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  17. True, Becca. Showing brings a scene alive. But I agree with some of your other commentators that, at times, we want to sedate the reader or distance them from a character or scene. In Tess of the d'Ubervilles, Hardy did not dare to show the famous rape scene. It wasn't just out of modesty. (Fielding had no problems with modesty in Tom Jones.)

    It was largely because he wanted to create a mystery. Was she raped or was she - heaven forfend! - willing? To show us everything would have killed the mystery.

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    1. Great of you to pop over to my blog, John. Your competition was one of the first I entered when I first started writing and your enthusiastic and encouraging critique of my story spurred me on with my desire to become a writer. (The story by the way has now been adapted for a magazine).

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    2. John, I fully agree that there are times when telling works better. Your example is a perfect one :).

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  18. I have been more excited about my writing since I got the emotion thesaurus. My writing group has noticed an improvement as well. Your posts are so informative and exciting it adds another dimension to my knowledge.
    I have been a nurse for over 30 years and my writing has been factual. Now I have more tools to add emotion to my stories.
    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Karen

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    1. Oh, I'm so glad to see how The Emotion Thesaurus is helping on such a practical level!

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  19. Great post. I go back in my manuscript when I'm editing and check for telling places that I can change.

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    1. thanks for your comment. Don't forget the second part of Becca's post is today.

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  20. The confusing thing for me is this: to show, one must actually tell, too. Tell facts with embellishing words to paint the scene.

    For instance, in the first example:

    Nerien jerked upright in bed and reached out, but only felt crumpled blankets and the heave of his own chest. He fell back and groaned into his pillow. Why? Why did he always wake up before the dream ended?

    (Excellent prose, btw)

    Okay...this is what I mean, and this is where I struggle in my own work:

    The "simple" tell is "Nerien was frustrated."

    "Showing" seems to be more intricate "telling."

    You are still telling us his actions, but after all is said and done, the telling has shown us his frustration.

    That's where I second-guess myself. I feel like I'm always TELLING (even though I think I'm showing)!

    So I finagle and twist the verbiage until I have such a long-winded sentence, I pass out from lack of breath when reading it out loud.

    In the end, I wonder if anything has been shown at all.

    On to Part II. Thanks for this!

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    1. See what I mean by long-winded? :o)

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    2. Your comment made me chuckle! I know what you mean. 'Finagal and twist the verbiage'...Goodness - don't think I'd be able to do that if I tried!

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