SHOWING VS TELLING

SHOWING VS TELLING

A Lesson by Domenic Luciani
"

something most people don't realize.

"

Here's something that just occured to me that I think people should consider. Everyone has heard one time or another that they have 'told and not shown'. Then those people pour over there work, ripping it apart, trying to figure out how they can 'show'.

 

Here's a tip, people. You need BOTH. Yes, I will say it again. BOTH. The real challenge is finding the right balance between the two.

 

When you show and never tell, your story comes out incredibly vague and though it may contain beautiful imagery and delicately crafted scenes, it will be confusing to read and your message may not be clear. An example: "The crimson rosebuds burst into life as the frost ebbed away and warm rays of light began to drift lightly through the clouds down to earth. (character A) stalks along the path lined with thorny bushes that led up to a behemoth of white stone. Trees danced in the wind and the sea of grass rustled, in thin green ripples, as if it were an ocean wave bringing him to the end of his journey." (I just made that up by the way), you can envision a beautiful scene, sure, but do you know really what's going on? No, instead, the character got lost in a sea of description and drowned (figuratively).

Also, 'showing' isn't exclusively fancy detail. It's better explained in the qotes at the bottom.

 

On the other hand, if you tell and not show, the obvious outcome (as we've seen so many times) is a work of writing that is dull, lifeless, more like a textbook really. Characters go through motions like puppets on strings, the plot follows a strict 'this happens now' and 'he does this at this point'. Nobody wants to read something like that. Maybe a college professor but that's about it. An example: "(Character B) walked along a path towards a castle. There were some trees in the background, and some shrubs lined the path. He walked up to the door of the castle and knocked a few times. A man answered. He led (character B) down into the dungeons of the castle and showed him to a cell. Inside was his brother. They met and talked for a bit. Then, (character B) walked back up the stairs and out of the castle. As he left, he promised himself he would rescue his brother from that cell." -- You know what's happening in this scene. You know why he was at the castle, who was in the cell, and all that stuff. In the other story, you might not have even realized he was visiting a castle. In this one you know perhaps a little too much because the reader can't allow his mind to wander across you're world, there's no emotion, resulting in dullness. It's kind of like playing one of those game-boy mario games - when all you have to go on is a linear path, and unless you get to the end fast, it will get boring even faster, until you put it down and walk away, possibly seething with anger. Anyways, another side-affect of telling is repeated words, because your vocabulary is too basic, too mundane to allow anything but the ordinary in. When you add a bit of showing to it . . . Well, it's like a painting. When all you do is tell, you're just outlining shapes on the canvas with a light pencil. When you add showing, you're giving yourself a full pallet of bright, deep, and beautiful colors; some that you don't even know the names for. But then again, if you don't outline it first, the colors will be all over the place, it'll look like a Monet, and nobody can read a Monet.

 

So next time you think about telling someone to show not tell, think. THERE'S A REASON IT'S CALLED STORYTELLING.

 

Here's an example of a story that does both. I did not write this because I didn't have time to make one myself. Telling will be in regular font, showing will be in italics.

  

        --She sat staring at him. There was nothing about her face or her round freezing blue eyes to indicate that this had moved her; but she felt as if her heart had stopped and left her mind to pump her blood. She decided that for the first time in her life she was face to face with real innocence. This boy, with an instinct that came from beyond wisdom, had touched the truth about her. When after a minute, she said in a hoarse high voice, "All right," It was like surrendering to him completely. It was like losng her own life and finding it again, miraculously, in his. Very gently, she began to roll the slack leg up.--

 

Another: 

           -- She gathered the folds of his coat behind him and fastened her red lips to his mouth, and she was dazzled at herself the way he had been dazzled at himself to begin with. In that instant she felt something that could not be told -- that solomon's death was at hand, and that he was the same to her as if he were dead now. She cried out, and uttering little cries, turned and ran for the house. --

 

Always remember to show AND tell.

 

Any requests for lessons, post at the bottom.

      



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Comments

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Posted 2 Years Ago


Thanks for writing this. I've spent so many hours agonizing over places where I was telling. Eventually I came to the conclusion you write about here, that a little of both is best. I think the reason teachers say "show don't tell" so much is because lack of showing, rather than too much, is almost always the problem.

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Posted 2 Years Ago


I don't believe this a parrot example. Since simply, you can follow or not follow at your will.

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Posted 3 Years Ago


I think this is the best article that I have read on how to convey the writers vision of the actions taking place to the reader. While the characters need directed in the action the background itself needs directed also.

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Posted 4 Years Ago


very good advise. There is place for both--there must be or the pace of the story bogs down in ridiculous details.

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Posted 4 Years Ago


I HATE it when people parrot "show, don't tell" as if it was an absolute law of some kind. That's why I am very pleased to see an article on here saying that both are needed.

http://io9.com/5655794/5-situations-where-its-better-to-tell-than-show-in-your-fiction

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Posted 4 Years Ago


I have always had problems with this part of the story. And everyone I had asked for help, said show, don't tell. This is a great lesson and after I'm done with my book, I will make sure that when I'm going through it, I'll be doing both show and tell. Thanks for this lesson!

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Posted 4 Years Ago


Again, excellent examples. I've always heard that showing should be kept for the moments you want the reader to pay attention to out of importance ect. But this was a nice example about how they work together so that point is given while giving the story life.

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Posted 6 Years Ago


I've always thought that "showing" in description meant, not flowery (and gorgeous) description/imagery, but rather the type of description that furthered a plot, while still creating a rounded setting. Maybe I thought of it more as a balance with "telling" before. I dunno.

Really looking forward to the next lesson though.
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Domenic Luciani
Domenic Luciani

Buffalo, NY



About
That is my real name, and that is really me in the picture. Like Patrick says, I'm not in the witness protection program. I mostly write books and stories. I like fantasy, or fiction, but if..