FurRag forums
August 23, 2017, 12:36:17 AM *
Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Did you miss your activation email?

Login with username, password and session length
 
   Home   Help Search Login Register  
Pages: [1] 2 3 ... 5
  Print  
Author Topic: Show AND Tell: The Importance of a Happy Median  (Read 10324 times)
Alflor
Full Member
***
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 181


Hey look, it's an otter! Yay!


View Profile WWW
« on: March 29, 2011, 09:31:59 PM »

Like the title says, I believe that it is important to balance both in writing. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that "telling" is punishable by death. Personally, I believe that this view is a tad extreme.
I you look at a book that only uses "showing" -- The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, for instance-- you'll see just how painful it is to read. Everything is shown everything! It becomes exhausting.
Narrative summary (a form of telling) is often a useful tool to help readers rest their eyes.

Discuss.
Logged

"The only people who write bad fiction are writers."
-Alex Vance

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkgard

alflor.com <-- You should go there. You should go there now.
Altivo
Administrator
Hero Member
*****
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 1126


Wandering about distractedly...


View Profile WWW
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2011, 09:34:41 PM »

There are no absolute rules that are valid. At best they should be cautionary. For every one of the "Never do this..." rules, you can always find some piece of work that violates the rule and comes out the better for it.
Logged

-
“Don't be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.” ― Arthur Miller
Reiter
Hero Member
*****
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 640


is a writer, dammit!


View Profile
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2011, 10:07:53 PM »

Well, it depends what you mean by "telling". If you mean "general concept outlined by vague, imprecise wording", then yes, it *is* punishable by death. If you mean "broad, unspecific details", then I'd say 80% of the time, the writer needs to expand where needed to make the story more interesting.

All this depends, really, on what will suit the story. If you're writing something like The Bridge of San Luis Rey, it would be pointless to show every little scene of the characters' lives - only a few of them are truly integral to the development of the story.* The plot is, I think, intentionally simple so that the reader is forced to deliberate on the "deeper meaning" of the novel, such as the portrayal of love, virtue, selfishness, and so on. In contrast, a story like Salinger's A Perfect Day for Bananafish requires that almost every detail be shown. The focus is on psychology, on interaction; the 'thrill' here is in figuring out why a certain character did such-and-such based on what he said to his wife, what kind of a pinhead his wife is, and all that jazz.

Show and tell are not flip sides of a coin - they are, I think, two extremes of a continuum which can be shaped and exploited according to one's needs. Beginning writers usually start out with very basic notions of what a story is. They have a concept, they have a rough idea of what goes where, but they don't yet know how to screw all those nuts and bolts together into a coherent, aesthetically pleasing whole. That's the reason for the whole "show, don't tell" guideline - to push them along that continuum until they find the spot where they fit best.** And that's why it's important to explain to them the whole rationale behind that. Writing is so much more of a DIY discipline than most that it's vital that everyone who gets into it knows how to think critically. The moment a writer stops questioning and starts following rules "just because", he's doomed himself to mediocrity.


*Note, however, that the mere fact that Wilder employs summary does not mean he is telling - rather, he employs summary in such a way that it shows off the important aspects of his characters' lives without dwelling on cumbersome minutiae.

**That's also the reason why it's important to read - and appreciate - as many good essays/books as you can. It *is* possible to learn aesthetics and euphony through theory, but it's much faster, much more natural, and much more fun to do it by osmosis.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2011, 10:15:17 PM by Reiter » Logged

Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we".
- attr. Mark Twain
Alflor
Full Member
***
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 181


Hey look, it's an otter! Yay!


View Profile WWW
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2011, 10:46:05 PM »

@Reiter: True, but don't you also have to give some thought to what the reader will and will not enjoy?
I don't care how deeply psychological your book is. If I don't enjoy it, I won't read it. A lot of authors, it seems, don't think about that enough, resulting in those infamous "Classics."
Those books may be deep, meaningful and whatnot... but they're boring. And nobody, short of students who have the book forced on them by their teachers, would ever read them.
Logged

"The only people who write bad fiction are writers."
-Alex Vance

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkgard

alflor.com <-- You should go there. You should go there now.
Alflor
Full Member
***
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 181


Hey look, it's an otter! Yay!


View Profile WWW
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2011, 11:28:34 PM »

In fact, I never understood art like this -- art that exists solely for the purpose of being analyzed and dissected.
Take Dostoevsky, for instance. He's written some good books, sure, but his better-known books are boring. Even Russian, PdD-wielding highbrows admit that his writing is dry and a bore to read. Would it have killed him to make his novels a bit more interesting? He did it with some, so I know he was capable of it.

In fact, I believe that people like him are the very reason why reading is so stigmatized in modern society. Instead of reading educational books that are also engaging (like Sherlock Holmes), kids in schools are forced to read "The Classics."
Some, thankfully, discover the joys of reading before public education comes to do its damage.
Logged

"The only people who write bad fiction are writers."
-Alex Vance

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkgard

alflor.com <-- You should go there. You should go there now.
Reiter
Hero Member
*****
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 640


is a writer, dammit!


View Profile
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2011, 11:42:53 PM »

The thing with classics is that they were written in a different time, where different writing standards applied. Dickens, for example, was paid by the word, so it stands to reason that he'd cram as many words as he could into his books. I also read this theory a couple of years ago that the reason Russian novels are so long is that back then, the Russians didn't really have much to do, what with the horrid climate and all. Well, not exactly that, but the point the researcher was getting at was that Russians had much more time on their hands, so they were accustomed to reading books of that length.

I'm not sure where you're going with this, though. Show and tell don't have much to do with psychology and meaning, while story does. Perhaps what you're thinking of is pacing. I still can't see how that and psychology/meaning would be mutually exclusive, though - pacing is a function of conflict, and conflict by definition is tied in with human relationship; hence, psychology. I enjoyed Salinger for the same reason I enjoyed Orwell, and Steinbeck, and Grossman, and Lem - because they threw their characters into situations I'd be unwilling to enter in real life, showed me how they dealt with and resolved (or didn't resolve) that conflict, and in the process, gave me a better understanding of their values and views on life - and in turn, of mine. I know some people tend to avoid the word "morals" like the plague, but I'm not talking about morals. I'm talking about concepts like friendship and hope and personal freedom and when does 2+2=5. Or futility and absurdity and the insignificance of the human race compared to Our Great Overlord Masters From Outer Space. However you wish.

But that's what a writer does. That's what's expected of a writer - and if a writer doesn't deliver me that, if all a writer gives me is an empty adventure story or an empty and overdone apocalypse story which reads like disaster porn and none of the characters ever die, well - I'll enjoy it in the short term, like eating a pizza or taking a hot shower. But will it make me happy? Will it help me deal with reality? I guess... if I have the mental age of a two-year old. Or if I think books are so 1990, don't you know we have internet now?

Again, though, I have to say - this is all part of story. Show and tell are merely devices to frame the story, so that readers don't find all that psychology and deep meaning and whatnot boring. There's a term for that boring sort of book; it's "philosophy textbooks". I flirt with philosophy on occasion, but I still admit they can be yawners.

I suppose if a writer really is absolutely positively allergic to Boring and wants to write something he's sure the reader will enjoy, he could always write romance or mystery. Worked for Kyell Gold*. Worked for Conan Doyle.*

By the by, I'd like to ask that you don't appoint yourself spokesperson for all the oppressed English Lit students who have their readings "forced" upon them by their teachers. There are plenty of people out there who genuinely like reading meaningful books and don't find them at all tiresome or boring (and yes, some of them actually do start in high school).


*They're probably not the best examples, though, seeing as how both their works grew to be both psychological and meaningful.
Logged

Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we".
- attr. Mark Twain
Alflor
Full Member
***
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 181


Hey look, it's an otter! Yay!


View Profile WWW
« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2011, 11:57:21 PM »

Let me explain. I hate when a writer focuses on the content instead of how it is presented. Yes, those writers have great conflict in their books, yes they present us with issues... but why do it in such a convoluted manner?
I like my books to have both engaging ideas and great presentation. In fact, when a book has great presentation, you absorb the ideas subconsciously. It's like a well-made stew-- everything combines to make a satisfying whole. It's tough, but far from impossible. Defending writers by saying "Well, they're very deep and symbolic." isn't enough.
And I will make myself spokesperson. I hated reading Orwell. Then again, I despise politics, so that's part of the reason.
Logged

"The only people who write bad fiction are writers."
-Alex Vance

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkgard

alflor.com <-- You should go there. You should go there now.
Alflor
Full Member
***
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 181


Hey look, it's an otter! Yay!


View Profile WWW
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2011, 12:07:15 AM »

Oh, and this is the psychology I was referring to:

"In contrast, a story like Salinger's A Perfect Day for Bananafish requires that almost every detail be shown. The focus is on psychology, on interaction;"

I was just saying that, regardless what the book is about, first and foremost it has to be interesting to read.
Again, this is strictly my opinion.

Also, I happen to enjoy adventure books. They can present messages and points that are just as valid and powerful without being heavy.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2011, 12:11:07 AM by Alflor » Logged

"The only people who write bad fiction are writers."
-Alex Vance

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkgard

alflor.com <-- You should go there. You should go there now.
Reiter
Hero Member
*****
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 640


is a writer, dammit!


View Profile
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2011, 12:12:10 AM »

In fact, I never understood art like this -- art that exists solely for the purpose of being analyzed and dissected.
Take Dostoevsky, for instance. He's written some good books, sure, but his better-known books are boring. Even Russian, PdD-wielding highbrows admit that his writing is dry and a bore to read. Would it have killed him to make his novels a bit more interesting? He did it with some, so I know he was capable of it.
Would Dostoevsky have known the tastes of people a hundred years down the line? Fifty? He was writing to satisfy the taste of his audience in his time, and he probably did that quite well by his reckoning. The modern style of writing - short sentences, easily apprehensible chunks of ideas - emerged only at the turn of the century. Some writers believed that writing should be closer to the vernacular and should more accurately reflect real life. You see this for example in Mark Twain's works - he went to great lengths to document accents and speech patterns, so that his writing could capture the casual tone of speaking. That's old hat for us now, but for its time it was pretty avant-garde. Not even fifty years before, you had books - if I remember correctly, one was The Scarlet Letter - where people talked in antiquated, Biblical forms of speech, and children addressed their parents as "thou".

In short, I wouldn't be so quick to say, "This writer from a hundred-fifty years ago was clearly not thinking of his readers because everyone in high school English class nods off when we read his work." The chain of logic there isn't sound, and besides, that writer was only doing his job - like all us writers today.

Quote
In fact, I believe that people like him are the very reason why reading is so stigmatized in modern society. Instead of reading educational books that are also engaging (like Sherlock Holmes), kids in schools are forced to read "The Classics."
Some, thankfully, discover the joys of reading before public education comes to do its damage.
Altivo would be better equipped to answer you on this point, but I think it's just natural that they'd do that. It's a school's job to prepare their charges for college life and life in general. For the first, the logical thing to do would be to run the student through the history of literature, from Shakespeare and the old classics to modern writing and modern classics. For the second, well - it's the whole values thing again. Every piece of writing, be it essay, book, or comic book, has a lesson to impart to its readers. Hopefully if you learn it young, you don't forget it as easily.

Is this really how English lit is taught in America, though? I remember back in grade school, we started with fun stuff like historical fiction and mythology, then moved on to Shakespeare et al when we were old enough to appreciate him. We didn't do much of Dickens or any of the old classics; practically all of our readings were from the 20th century. We were welcome to read them on our own, though.
Logged

Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we".
- attr. Mark Twain
Alflor
Full Member
***
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 181


Hey look, it's an otter! Yay!


View Profile WWW
« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2011, 12:21:38 AM »

For the first, the logical thing to do would be to run the student through the history of literature, from Shakespeare and the old classics to modern writing and modern classics. For the second, well - it's the whole values thing again. Every piece of writing, be it essay, book, or comic book, has a lesson to impart to its readers. Hopefully if you learn it young, you don't forget it as easily.

Okay, but there are fun classics. I have nothing against the classics, but rather the selection of classics that is taught in most schools. As I said before, Dostoevsky has written some very engaging books. If all his books were like C&P, I wouldn't have said anything. Clearly, he was capable of writing in such a way that can hold even the fickle attention of todays readers. Same with Dickens. They all had books that are brilliantly engaging.


And, trust me, it's  much worse in America. Prior to reading the heavier stuff, the curriculum consists primarily of mediocre books like The Boxcar Children.
Logged

"The only people who write bad fiction are writers."
-Alex Vance

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkgard

alflor.com <-- You should go there. You should go there now.
Reiter
Hero Member
*****
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 640


is a writer, dammit!


View Profile
« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2011, 12:26:24 AM »

I was just saying that, regardless what the book is about, first and foremost it has to be interesting to read.
Again, this is strictly my opinion.
My point is that the psychology is exactly what makes it interesting to read. It's the mechanism behind gossip, it's the mechanism behind eavesdropping. It's what makes the gears of society turn (well, aside from money). It's why people stop on the street when they see a policeman having an argument with a homeless bum.

Let me explain. I hate when a writer focuses on the content instead of how it is presented. Yes, those writers have great conflict in their books, yes they present us with issues... but why do it in such a convoluted manner?
I like my books to have both engaging ideas and great presentation. In fact, when a book has great presentation, you absorb the ideas subconsciously. It's like a well-made stew-- everything combines to make a satisfying whole. It's tough, but far from impossible. Defending writers by saying "Well, they're very deep and symbolic." isn't enough.
And I will make myself spokesperson. I hated reading Orwell. Then again, I despise politics, so that's part of the reason.
Why even write a book at all? Why not just write a paper that says, "These are my issues, this is what I think," and send it off to publishers? The whole process of writing a story is a convolution that could be done without.

I really don't understand what you're getting at here. You're saying, "I want my books to have great presentation," but you don't define what that presentation is, other than that it's "not boring". Are you perhaps equating "show" with "boring"? That's what this topic is called, anyhow ("show", not "boring").
Logged

Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial "we".
- attr. Mark Twain
Alflor
Full Member
***
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 181


Hey look, it's an otter! Yay!


View Profile WWW
« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2011, 12:29:58 AM »

Okay, I will explain further. I believe that reading should be fun above all else. You can throw in all the symbolism you want, but it should all be neatly hidden in the folds of the story. Like a well-made movie set, I don't want to see any wires, nails, nothing. Tolkien -- as much as I dislike his style-- does it well. He's got his little Christian motifs going on and that's fine. Why? Because I don't see them when I read.
Logged

"The only people who write bad fiction are writers."
-Alex Vance

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkgard

alflor.com <-- You should go there. You should go there now.
Lutrina Lontra
Guest
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2011, 12:30:12 AM »

Part of the problem I have with writing is I have this urge to detail as much of the story as possible, even if whatever I'm detailing has nothing to do with the actual plot or the underlying message of the story. My latest short story Viral is exactly like that simply because of that first chapter I posted (I'm in the process of writing a completely new draft of it).

The other part of the problem for me is I have a hard time distinguishing between what is showing and what is telling. To me it seems more like just a question on what you're detailing and how it's detailed, but apparently I'm wrong because I got burned for 'telling' at multiple points in Viral when I don't even know what I'm looking for.

Right now the message I'm taking home is to be more concise and precise with my writing. Am I wrong?
Logged
Alflor
Full Member
***
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 181


Hey look, it's an otter! Yay!


View Profile WWW
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2011, 12:33:48 AM »

Right now the message I'm taking home is to be more concise and precise with my writing. Am I wrong?

And there's my other problem. While this isn't always the case, sometimes I want flowery prose.
Why do you always have to be concise?
Logged

"The only people who write bad fiction are writers."
-Alex Vance

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkgard

alflor.com <-- You should go there. You should go there now.
Alflor
Full Member
***
Offline Offline

Gender: Male
Posts: 181


Hey look, it's an otter! Yay!


View Profile WWW
« Reply #14 on: March 30, 2011, 12:37:52 AM »

Actually, I got it!

Life isn't tailored to teach us morals or present us with symbolic messages. It just happens. And yet, it can still be exciting. I just hate it when a book is overloaded by all those messages and symbols. All I want to do is read about characters in extraordinary circumstances. I don't want to be preached to.

I guess that's my bottom line.

With some works, like Orwell's, I can tell that I'm being lectured. I don't like that.
That's just me, though. Some may very well enjoy it and that's completely fine. I'm just stating an opinion.
Logged

"The only people who write bad fiction are writers."
-Alex Vance

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkgard

alflor.com <-- You should go there. You should go there now.
Pages: [1] 2 3 ... 5
  Print  
 
Jump to:  

Powered by MySQL Powered by PHP Powered by SMF 1.1.14 | SMF © 2006-2011, Simple Machines LLC Valid XHTML 1.0! Valid CSS!