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Author Topic: Show AND Tell: The Importance of a Happy Median  (Read 10159 times)
Lutrina Lontra
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« Reply #15 on: March 30, 2011, 12:43:27 AM »

I can understand that. I personally like stories with those messages and symbols, though I agree that it can be very tiring if there are a lot of them.

As for concise writing, I never said one ALWAYS has to be concise. However, I feel like concise writing keeps a story exciting and moving as opposed to overly fluffy and detailed writing. Of course, it's possible to not say enough and have the opposite effect. Like you said in the OP, it's all about a balance between what you're detailing and what you gloss over. I would think that you'd only spend time detailing the things that mean the most to a story.

In my case, I realized that what the family in Viral was doing for the two days before the important events in part 2 made NO DIFFERENCE to the point of the story, which was to be a thriller with a slight message at the end about reality checks.
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« Reply #16 on: March 30, 2011, 12:48:35 AM »

@Justin. Yeah, Balance. Thanks for bringing this back on topic.
I like balance when it comes to writing. Books on the extremes just rub me the wrong way.
Having said that, they are there for a reason. A lot of people do enjoy them. So, what do we take away from all this?
Write however you need to, so long as your indented effect is achieved. Someone is bound to like it.
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Lutrina Lontra
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« Reply #17 on: March 30, 2011, 12:56:36 AM »

Well, my intended effect is to evoke emotions in my readers and eventually get published. Apparently I do at least a decent job at the first but I'm far removed from the second. XD
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« Reply #18 on: March 30, 2011, 01:01:36 PM »

I actually had a conversation sort of about this in the chatbox of a forum I roleplay on, a while back, when we were talking about character descriptions, and what should and should not be acceptable in them.

To me, saying "Bella is a pretty girl, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks" is a lot more meaningful than saying "Bella has a heart-shaped face, blonde hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks" (or whatever). You may be able to use the latter to convey the former, but it's a lot easier (in my opinion, apparently some other people disagree) to parse the description if you know from the get-go that it's supposed to be describing someone who fits their society's ideas of what constitutes "pretty". Saying "Adam is a pretty boy, blablabladetail" conveys even more, because "pretty" has different shades of meaning than "handsome".

Yet "pretty" is telling. It's just sometimes easier to anchor showing in telling.

(In roleplaying circles, people also have a bad habit of assuming that "pretty" means "my character has to be attracted to this person" and thus calling godmoding on the other player. I can see that the women in underwear ads are attractive, somewhat-objectively (to the extent that society's standards for beauty are objective), but that doesn't necessarily mean that I personally find them particularly appealing.)
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Quinn Yellowfox
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« Reply #19 on: March 31, 2011, 03:56:21 AM »

I still stand my my assertion that one of the best tools a writer has to combat intrusive telling is: dialogue. Building a natural opportunity for dialogue can develop two characters at once and also tell what the reader what s/he needs to know.

"Please don't cry Bella." The old man caressed her long golden hair. "You look so much like your mother. Seeing tears in those pretty blue eyes--"

"Don't ever compare me to her!" She shoved her father off the couch. He hit the floor with a grunt. "I'm nothing like her."

"Look where I'm sitting darling. Are you sure you're so different?"
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« Reply #20 on: March 31, 2011, 04:12:58 AM »

I still stand my my assertion that one of the best tools a writer has to combat intrusive telling is: dialogue. Building a natural opportunity for dialogue can develop two characters at once and also tell what the reader what s/he needs to know.

"Please don't cry Bella." The old man caressed her long golden hair. "You look so much like your mother. Seeing tears in those pretty blue eyes--"

"Don't ever compare me to her!" She shoved her father off the couch. He hit the floor with a grunt. "I'm nothing like her."

"Look where I'm sitting darling. Are you sure you're so different?"

Oh, I agree, telling should never be intrusive and details should never be front-loaded, but rather dispersed throughout and brought up when they are needed.
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« Reply #21 on: March 31, 2011, 04:14:56 AM »

Oh, I agree, telling should never be intrusive and details should never be front-loaded, but rather dispersed throughout and brought up when they are needed.

Hear, Hear. If you drop all of your bread crumbs at once, there's no trail to follow.
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« Reply #22 on: March 31, 2011, 04:23:23 AM »

Oh, I agree, telling should never be intrusive and details should never be front-loaded, but rather dispersed throughout and brought up when they are needed.

Hear, Hear. If you drop all of your bread crumbs at once, there's no trail to follow.

That's actually my absolute biggest pet peeve.
Steve was six feet tall. He had red hair and blue eyes. He was twenty years-old.
... I feel like I'm reading a driver's license or an instruction manual on how to assemble a "Steve."
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« Reply #23 on: March 31, 2011, 04:28:50 AM »

Quote
Steve was six feet tall. He had red hair and blue eyes. He was twenty years-old.
This, this turns me off, especially if it is the first sentence in the story.

I dealt with the height thing easily in the story I am working on
Quote
Looking around, the only other way out was a bar covered skylight set in the ceiling, being a good 12 feet off the ground, no way could a 4ft tall mouse reach it.
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« Reply #24 on: March 31, 2011, 04:46:49 AM »

Quote
Steve was six feet tall. He had red hair and blue eyes. He was twenty years-old.
This, this turns me off, especially if it is the first sentence in the story.

I dealt with the height thing easily in the story I am working on
Quote
Looking around, the only other way out was a bar covered skylight set in the ceiling, being a good 12 feet off the ground, no way could a 4ft tall mouse reach it.


I usually give relative height.
Otherwise, you run into the whole "Would the narrator have noticed this IRL?" problem.
If you have a tight third-person perspective, the protagonist would never talk about their own height, but rather the height of others.

The corridor twisted and forked, but the otter's scent was strong enough for Andrew to follow the creature with ease. Preoccupied with planning his eventual encounter with the thief, Andrew failed to notice the approaching door frame. Another foot and he would have cleared it, but luck didn't like him much.
The searing pain and momentary blindness knocked all thoughts of pursuit from the young fox's head. He landed with a thud on the floor and lay still, cursing otters for their short stature.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2011, 04:53:08 AM by Alflor » Logged

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« Reply #25 on: March 31, 2011, 01:30:58 PM »

I actually had a conversation sort of about this in the chatbox of a forum I roleplay on, a while back, when we were talking about character descriptions, and what should and should not be acceptable in them.

To me, saying "Bella is a pretty girl, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks" is a lot more meaningful than saying "Bella has a heart-shaped face, blonde hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks" (or whatever). You may be able to use the latter to convey the former, but it's a lot easier (in my opinion, apparently some other people disagree) to parse the description if you know from the get-go that it's supposed to be describing someone who fits their society's ideas of what constitutes "pretty". Saying "Adam is a pretty boy, blablabladetail" conveys even more, because "pretty" has different shades of meaning than "handsome".

Yet "pretty" is telling. It's just sometimes easier to anchor showing in telling.
I'd say that "pretty" in this case is actually showing and not telling. You're right in that it has a different shade of meaning from "handsome" or "elegant", which I think is really what the whole "show, don't tell" rule tries to explain and which many people don't get. It's not "short sentences are bad, therefore cram in as much detail as possible;" it's "vague, overly general sentences don't form clear pictures, therefore specify where needed and think about your word choice."

Telling in your example would be to say, "Bella is a good-looking girl, etc etc" as "good-looking" is a very broad category and doesn't tell the reader much other than that the narrator thinks Bella looks good. To say "Bella has a heart-shaped face, etc" would be to show but in the wrong way. You're actually giving the reader even less information here about Bella's overall appearance or how other people perceive her than if you write "Bella is a pretty/gorgeous/elegant girl." In this context, and if you follow it up with little cues that support and build an image of Bella as whatever kind of girl she is, I'd say that's showing - even though it looks strikingly similar like telling.
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« Reply #26 on: March 31, 2011, 03:29:03 PM »

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.
Yes, well, that's exactly what I've been saying all along.

You seem to be under the impression that I advocate cramming a story full of symbolism and philosophical motifs. I specifically pointed out that that was not so. I even compared it to a philosophy textbook. Yes, life is random, and it's definitely not plot-driven. But stories are not life. Stories are idealized versions of life, which is why you have things like focused dialogue and characters who actually learn from their mistakes without doing the same thing over and over again (except in tragedies, where they f*k up royally before they ever learn). These are the lessons I'm talking about. That's the psychology I'm talking about. What happens next? What happens next? What happens to him, Daddy? That's what makes stories like "Out of Position", or "Catch-22", or "American Gods", or even "Lord of the Flies" so compelling. Without it, you may just as well throw word-magnets on a fridge, assemble them together, and call that "literature". Heck, even Joyce's sanity-breakers had lessons in them (possibly their one redeeming feature, but who am I to say?).

Again, if it wasn't clear: I also do not like preachy stories. If I want to be preached to, I will pick up a textbook or listen to a backwards-thinking priest (there are many of those where I come from, sadly). But there is a difference between preaching and imparting a lesson. I think it's a writer's duty to do the latter, and if he does not satisfy that duty - even in a thriller, even in a romance novel - then he has failed as a writer.


Regarding Orwell: all a matter of taste, yes. I do want to point out, though, that Animal Farm was strictly meant as satire and hence was supposed to be overtly political. 1984, on the other hand, never struck me as being preachy - it all flowed naturally from the question of "What happens to the everyman when totalitarian governments assume complete control over the world?" Same thing with his narrative essays. I wasn't forced to read 1984, which may be why I enjoyed it so, but I did find Animal Farm heavy-handed as well.

I don't think there's a lot to complain about with Orwell, really. There are much worse writers: Ayn Rand, for example, who used one entire chapter in Atlas Shrugged to propound her philosophy - under the guise of "dialogue". The ancient Greeks were notorious for that as well. And Philip Pullman was, in my opinion, just as blatant with his anti-religious indoctrination as C.S. Lewis was with his Christian dogma. I may dislike reading them - in some cases, maybe even hate - but that doesn't mean I'll stop reading them. There's always something to be learnt from other writers, and if they're still on the bestseller list or still revered after all this time, then there's something they did right. For a beginning writer, that's always worth looking into.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2011, 03:31:24 PM by Reiter » Logged

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« Reply #27 on: March 31, 2011, 07:43:41 PM »

Oh, absolutely, there are worse things out there than Orwell.
I'm most interested, actually, in books that carry a lesson, but read like mindless thrillers or adventure stories. Take Michael Crichton's works*, for instance. They are crammed full of messages, but when you read them, all you see is stuff getting blown up, people getting shot, time-travel, cannibal-gorillas. Those are the kinds of books I enjoy-- books that put you on a heart-stopping roller-coaster, but once the ride is over, you say "Hmm, you know... numinous powers are too much for humans." or something similar.
I guess it is all about the pacing for me. It isn't even about the time-frame of the novel. I've read novels by Dumas that are written in a way that is just as engaging to read as any modern thriller.

You are right, however, if people like C.S. Lewis can keep their books on the best seller list long after they're dead, that must mean they've developed some really efficient way of cramming religious propaganda down people's throats.

* Earlier works, mind, his later ones are a bit bland and rushed.
« Last Edit: March 31, 2011, 07:45:28 PM by Alflor » Logged

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« Reply #28 on: March 31, 2011, 11:28:18 PM »

And don't forget bestsellers like "The Da Vinci Code" or even - yes, I'll say it - "Twilight". Everybody goes on about how they're worthless and trash - and that may be - but I agree with what Kyell said on Unsheathed. You can be as cynical as you want about the publishing industry, but in the end, Dan Brown or Stephenie Meyer still found that magic element that convinced their publishers and hundreds of thousands around the world that their worthless book was worth reading. Though I will not be caught dead reading "Twilight" (EVER), I won't doubt that Dan Brown knows his pacing well... even if his books are essentially just the same novel stuck between different covers.

QM: Don't know if you've seen this, but Tim Susman of Sofawolf has a blog post from waaay back about using tell to show. He calls it "show telling", and it's exactly what we've been talking about. He also has this interesting view on cliches and how in rare cases, they actually carry an image better than if you show. Worth a look.
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« Reply #29 on: March 31, 2011, 11:39:44 PM »

Agreed. Kyell was absolutely right about Twilight-- it may be poorly written, but it has conflict on every page. That's what keeps the reader turning pages.
As far as Brown goes... I will come right out and say "I liked Angels and Demons." There. My problem with him is that he took a cool setup and rewrote it several more times, only changing the character names and locations. Then again, in his defense, he's found a formula that works and sells books. And in a business sense... he won.
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