Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Rules, Rules, Rules--Show, Don't Tell

"Show, Don't Tell" will be the final topic in this "rules" series. The "Show, Don't Tell" issue is one that we could talk about for days. And, like so many other writing "rules," it's really not a hard and fast rule at all, but a guideline. In the end, one thing rules: Story.

Please help me out on this topic by anwering any of the following:

1. Do you have specific questions regarding this rule?

2. What about exceptions to this rule? Can you give me an example?

3. What kinds of "telling" really bug you as a reader?

Read Part 11


Timothy Fish said...

One exception is in the setup of a scene. There are things that the reader needs to know, but showing rather than telling will take away from the story.

Another exception is when showing is difficult or impossible. For example, if a character is an eloquent speaker, the best we can do is tell the reader his is an eloquent speaker or show the reader that other characters judge him to be so. If we try to use his words to show that he is an eloquent speaker, we risk the reader coming to a different conclusion.

For me, I find it irritating when an author states his opinion as fact when the reader (I) may come to a different conclusion.

I also find it irritating when an author tells me a joke is funny. I’ll be the judge of that. I read a book by a well known Christian author in which the main character popped puns like they were beans. That would have been fine, except every time this character used a pun, another character would say, “you’re funny” or something similar, causing me to go back and read the pun, I had previously skimmed over. I quickly learned to dislike the main character. It wasn’t long before I started cheering for the bad guys when they beat him up.

Richard Mabry said...

What is your own method for distinguishing telling from showing, especially in a scene that features just one character? Surely it's just more than the absence or presence of dialogue. How about some specific hints?
Thanks again for doing this series. I suspect I'll be coming back to your archives to review it.

Lianne said...

I don't have a particular question about this. I understand this rule very well, although I still discover some telling in my writing. While I was learning it, this used to really bug me, but now I see the reasoning behind it. I've read some stories recently that were so full of telling and it made the story drag. The kind of telling that bugs me most is when I feel like I'm reading off a list of descriptions rather than experiencing the setting. Or then I feel detatched from the POV character as they are listing off what this or that character did. I think what bugs me most about telling in general is the detatched feeling I get, and I usually want to BE the lead character if I'm really interested in a story. Telling breaks that connection for me.

Sorry to ramble on so long. :)