Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Show, don't tell

So I must admit I am partially crippled right now. I've constantly heard the admonition, "Show, don't tell." But I'm not sure when to break the rule. For instance, I've avoided giving physical descriptions of the characters thus far unless a character from the story noticed them for some reason. But is that taking the rule too far? I'm starting to wonder.
When is it alright to just tell? Why is it considered bad to tell anyways? Who made the rules?
Anyhoo, because I was feeling crippled, I think I left out a scene I shouldn't have. I'll be adding to chapter 1 shortly.


Perhaps the choice to be spare with physical descriptions is appropriate. But you have certain restrictions. Novel writers have huge chapters to "show, not tell," where as you have restricted the length of your sections rather severly.

It's good. As was "En Passant".

By Blogger Cantwell Carson, at 6:16 PM  

Well, I'm not severe by choice, really. And yet, I still seem to be a fairly good writer...

By Blogger Clayton, at 11:38 PM  

Someone asked me about this recently at a panel, I said a bunch of stuff that I am too lazy to type again now even if I could remember it: but let me give a few points. (1) It's an overstated rule, a lot of BRILLIANT writers do a LOT of telling; (2) However, it's a wise enough principle to start off with, just don't hew to it without using your common sense. (3) The main thing is to have a voice or point-of-view that has its own internal logic--check your show/tell choices against that voice to see if they're making sense. (4) The classic show-tell problem doesn't arise from physical description (I actually always think with hatred of the classic awful "As she brushed her teeth, she looked at herself in the bathroom mirror: the harsh light exposed the strands of gray in her hair, the once-bright blue eyes dimmed by time,".... blah blah blah--I'm always, like, FORGET the mirror, this is a ridiculous convention, you actually can just tell us more or less what she looks like without being this goofy). They arise from telling about emotional/motive-type stuff that really should be shown instead of told. i.e. you need to think of the action that so-and-so does that lets the reader draw her own conclusions about, oh, so-and-so's never having really gotten over her first husband; you can't just say "So-and-so really had never got over her first husband." You have to think of a way to integrate it more effectively. It might be showing her caressing a pair of cufflinks that you later learn belonged to the man, though that seems a bit crude. It might be showing two of her friends gossiping about her and completely MISUNDERSTANDING her motives but having their conversation reveal something important for the reader nonetheless.

All right, too long! Enough of this. Good luck....

By Blogger Jenny D, at 7:45 PM  

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