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Thread: "Show, Don't Tell": How to Jumpstart Your Short Stories

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    "Show, Don't Tell": How to Jumpstart Your Short Stories

    {Preface, added 3/12/11:
    The following posting consists of general guidelines, mere suggestions presented as a public service to LitNutters who are looking for ways to improve their short stories. The intentions for posting this thread are neither antagonistic nor polemic, although the original poster has come to realize the truth of the old saying: "No good deed goes unpunished."}



    “Show, Don't Tell”: How to Jumpstart Your Short Stories

    A non-fiction book currently making the cable talk show rounds is Tell to Win by Hollywood insider, Peter Gruber, whose apparent advice is to include “stories” or autobiographical anecdotes in negotiations in order to make one’s listeners more receptive. Well, such a strategy might work in the business world and in private life, but in contemporary fiction-writing, narration that is straight-up, linear, and literal doesn't generally make a good short story. Stories that “grab” the reader usually don't “tell” too much; what they do is “show.”

    Where did we get the idea that stories involve “telling”? As children, we were introduced to literature in the form of fairy tales, the epitome of story-telling. As you remember, many fairy tales begin the same way: “Once upon a time,” and more often than not the narrative proceeds chronologically: first this happened, and then this happened. They typically tend to end the same way as well: “and they lived happily ever after.” Concerning the characters-- many times a maiden (often at story’s end revealed to be a princess), a handsome prince, and an indisputable villain such as a wicked witch– the story depicts the characters just as they are with little or no shading or nuance. There is little doubt over just who is good and who is evil, as the fairy tale proceeds from point A to point B, with few side trips through the woods.

    Fairytales are certainly “old,” but literature created primarily for adults is older still. One of the world’s ancient works, The Iliad, is an epic poem about the Trojan War. As the poem opens, the war has been raging for nine long years, but rather than starting off with a lengthy recap of the conflict, with its causes and battles, the Iliad begins in media res – “in the middle of things.” The first scene of Book I introduces the poem’s hero in less than a triumphant light. Indeed, the first time we see Achilles, he’s having a flat-out, raging temper tantrum. Homer, the world’s first storyteller, does not “tell” his story– he “shows” us characters with human flaws straight out of the gate.

    A more modern medium for storytelling is the motion picture; on film especially, “showing” is much preferable to “telling.” We've all seen really bad movies that depend on an invisible ”voice-over” narrator to make sure we know what we should be seeing on the screen with our own eyes. Another cinematic “no no” is burdening the story with long scenes full of expository dialogue: for instance, two cops are sitting around talking about a crime that already happened. Scenes like this certainly bog down the movie which would have better had it started with showing the crime as it is committed. Most contemporary movies “hit the ground running,” so to speak, often before the opening credits have started rolling. That’s not just movies released in 2011. Produced way back in 1943, The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp begins with a convoy of military motorcycles loudly racing across the screen. Even then, the co-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger wisely knew what grabs the audience, who naturally must have wondered where are all these soldiers rushing to--and why?

    In a short-story an intrusive narrator, like a busybody who tells the reader exactly what to think, is the equivalent of “voice-over” narration in a movie. Similarly, a short story that doesn't really “get going” until it fills in everything that has happened previous to the plot of the story bogs the work down. Such extraneous material will likely fail to give its audience a reason to keep reading. If the plot of the current short story depends on a previously occurring incident, the writer can allude to certain facts from the “back story” with a judicious use of a non-intrusive flashback, which can be as brief as a sentence or two.

    Instead of opening with, “Once upon a time,” with a narration set deep in the past, a good short story begins right in the middle of things with a “cinematic” scene. Even though it is written in the past tense, the action seems as if it is happening right here and now. That means fewer descriptive passages depending on some form of the verb “to be;” on the other hand, it does mean plenty of moving parts– “action” verbs. This doesn't mean that the verbs should be in the present tense–which can make the sentences sound choppy, childish and--within flashbacks--awkward.

    Sometimes a story gets weighed down with linear narration in long strings of simple declarative sentences with the same predicate – “is,” or “was.” Occasionally the reader has to plow through all the minutiae of the character’s biography, from his conception to the point of the story at hand – even in some cases, what’s going to happen to him when he dies. Some writers feel compelled to list every thing the character does during every waking hour of the day. In high school we all read about Gregor Samsa and how he wakes up one morning a “changed” man.

    Amateur stories written a century after Kafka’s famous story still can't shake that device. I can remember an article in a writer’s magazine in which an editor said that every time she received an unsolicited manuscript which begins with the protagonist waking up in the morning, she didn't read another word and shipped it right back to its author in the S.A.S.E. he so dutifully enclosed.

    The obsession with “telling” spills over into the extensive descriptions of each and every character. No psychological quirk of the character’s personality is left to chance, and the physical makeup could have come from a physical description on a police blotter: “He was about 14 years old, 145 lbs, five ten in his stocking feet. Distinguishing marks: hairline scar above left eyebrow and a five-inch tattoo of a dragon on the right side of this neck.”

    Please allow me to illustrate this with two openings from a hypothetical story, the same scene written two different ways.

    This story opens by "Telling":

    Donny Doyle was fourteen years old. He lived with his mother and stepfather, a brother , and two half-brothers. He also had two little stepbrothers and a baby half-sister whom he never met. Donny saw his real father very rarely, and sometimes he had to try really hard to remember what he looked like. Donny’s mother went to work before he got up in the morning, and some nights she came home after he went to bed, even though he had a habit of staying up as late as he pleased. Donny’s stepfather was currently unemployed, and he liked to drink.

    Donny was big for his age, five feet ten inches tall. All through school he was bigger than his classmates. Because of this, whenever school started in September, Donny’s new teacher immediately thought, “This kid is so big he’s probably been left back a couple years. Just what I need, another dumb one.” At his middle school the seating arrangement was by height so the students could see the teacher, the blackboard, and the A/V devices better. As a result, Donny always sat in the back of the classroom. That’s where they put the misbehaving kids as well. Donny’s mother used to get notes from the teacher saying “Danny has a problem with authority.” In Danny’s case, this was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    One day, in English class, the regular teacher was absent. Another man was standing in the front of the class to take his place.


    Here’s the same story, opening by “showing”:

    As was his habit, Donny arrived at 317-B a long three minutes after the Fifth Period bell had rung. This time, though, his entrance was more explosive than usual. He wouldn't have kicked open the door so violently if his father hadn't stood him the night before.

    “What the –“ Instead of English class, Donny thought he had walked into a satellite of hell. Railsback had copped Kylie Walker’s cellphone and was teasing her by pretending to fling it across the room. The classroom floor was covered by a sea of paper, junk food wrappers, even pistachio shells.

    The din was ear-splitting –until the door opened and for a split-second ceased–but just as suddenly revved up again with joyous shouts. “Sub! Sub!” came the cry. “We got a sub!”

    The substitute’s command was even louder. “Quiet!” Then on a decreased decibel level, he announced, “Everybody settled down? All right. Mr. Gresham is ill, and I am taking his place for the interim.”

    A couple of students attempted to reprise the litany of “Sub! Sub!” but one threatening look from the imposing man in the front of the room was all it took to stop it in mid-syllable.

    “My name is Mr. Bryant. Let’s see who is who.” He ignored the class roster for taking attendance. Instead he ran his finger down the seating chart. “Mr. Doyle?”

    Damned if he wasn't staring straight at Donny! He raised his hand as if it weighed two hundred pounds. “Donny,” he said. “The name is Donny.”

    “ I see. Tell me, Mr. Doyle, do you address Mr. Gresham by his first name?”

    Donny shot a glance over to Railsback, who was snickering, as if to say where'd they get this one from?

    “I asked you a question, Mr. Doyle.”

    “Dude, I don't even know his first name. It’s prob’ly ‘Gaylord’ or somethin’ wussy like that.”

    “Well, Mr. Doyle, you should know this. For the duration of Mr. Gresham’s absence, I will be addressed as Mister Bryant. In return I will address each member of the class by surname with the appropriate title, Mister or Miss. Is that clear, Mr. Doyle?”

    “I can't believe this!”

    “I asked ‘Is that clear, Mr. Doyle?’ “

    Finally the soft answer came: “Yeah.”

    “Pardon me?”

    “Yes, Mr. Bryant.”

    “Thank you, Mr. Doyle--and by the way, it might be a good idea if you sat in the front of the room. I wouldn't want you to miss anything. Now, we will proceed with Mr. Gresham’s lesson plan for ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka. Please open your textbooks to page 79.”


    Admittedly, that passage is light years away from the level of James Joyce with his “scrupulous meanness,” but it seems to show somewhat more life than the prosaic, “telling” passage that precedes it.

    In general, “showing” is more effective than telling is that the former allows the reader to be an active participant in the unfolding of the story. The writer provides just enough details to show us what the character is in relationship to the story. In this way, an author is like an impressionistic painter; just as the viewer’s eye fills in the soft lines and splotches of the painting, the reader takes the swatches of dialogue and brief glimpses of what the character does and fills in the blanks. This is a much more satisfying experience for the reader; if he is expected merely to sit there passively as he is told what happens and why, he may as well be watching some inane reality show on TV.

    The desire for some beginning writers to be absolutely “honest” and forthright sometimes has the side effect of going overboard when the compulsion to “tell the story” is so strong. It’s counterintuitive to hold back and thus shy away from subtlety, understatement, and nuance. For instance, instead of having the author tells him exactly how the character happens to be feeling: “disappointed, sad, happy, ecstatic, relieved, angry,” ad infinitum, the reader would prefer to make that judgement himself. One would like to advise such a writer to fight such earnestness and instead, trust the reader to “get” what he wants him to know, by presenting the characters in a minimum of details---there may be few of them, but they are just vivid enough to make the desired point. “Show” the story, but whatever you do, don't “tell” it.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 03-18-2011 at 07:52 PM.

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    Hi,

    I'd just like to say how informative your post was. It told me how to show yet told me how to do it and not showed me. I suggest you lay out your post in a different manner - not sure if you can do that in this forum architecture. What I mean is make your post aesthetically pleasing to the eye. No one likes to read reams of words. Your post isn't too bad - it's broken down into paragraphs. Try images. I hope this helps,

    Regards,
    The beatings will continue until morale improves

    http://www.craigrobertdouglas.com/

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    Personal meditations:

    A fine post Auntie about advice often duly given. But as far as the advice itself goes (no longer directly referencing your fine post), let's peel back the magician's curtain.


    *This reader has given it a lot and though it's somewhat meaningless and insipid it's often the best advice to be given. Truth is, most writing contains elements that are not in themselves purely expositional. There just seems to be a threshold to which a reader will say enough. Up to a point, writers aren't even writing- they're echoing. The way information is presented is not by conscious decision but haphazard. It adheres to a form first encountered and then imitated, most times with poor results. Heavy handed seems to be a natural tendency.

    And it must be concluded that "show, don't tell" is really not great advice. It's just a multitool used to pry the aspiring writer away from the echoing, to bring conscious decision into the equation because the truth (!) of the matter is far more disconcerting.

    Freshman year this reader had a chemistry professor who expressed it best: the door is cracked open at intervals (presumably by some sort of design). And in the case of writing, when the door is cracked open wide enough by virtue of experience and practice one sees that no help genuinely comes from any external source and you are completely alone.



    J

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    The Telling version and the Showing version do not seem like the same story. Evidence for this is that the two versions could be concatenated together to make one story without any serious overlap. The Telling version stops when information is provided about the sub. The Showing version starts with the sub in the classroom.

    Also I find information such as "317-B" and "Fifth Period" in the Showing version to be distracting, sort of like adding too many adjectives. Such information makes me want to start speed reading. I suspect it is just to increase the word count.

    I think the criteria for a good story is to keep the reader's interest no matter how that is done: show, tell, whatever it takes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    “Show, Don't Tell”: How to Jumpstart Your Short Stories

    A non-fiction book currently making the cable talk show rounds is Tell to Win by Hollywood insider, Peter Gruber, whose apparent advice is to include “stories” or autobiographical anecdotes in negotiations in order to make one’s listeners more receptive. Well, such a strategy might work in the business world and in private life, but in contemporary fiction-writing, narration that is straight-up, linear, and literal doesn't generally make a good short story. Stories that “grab” the reader usually don't “tell” too much; what they do is “show.”
    I have no idea who Gruber is, but there could be nor premisse smore false. An oral storyteller has much more resources to show than a writer. The manipulate the audience with their changes of voice, movement of hand, body position, etc. The advice is very nice, but you simple do not compare two different artworks by the same standards and expect to made a fair judgment of it.

    Where did we get the idea that stories involve “telling”?
    Semantics. When you tell a story, you show, you describe, you do in any form you want. It is all "telling".


    As children, we were introduced to literature in the form of fairy tales, the epitome of story-telling.
    Really? Where you? Is a true faery-tale your form of introduction into literature? It is the form of he majority here or in the world? The term faery tale specify a traditional form of stories (not always short) and certainly not all short stories.


    As you remember, most fairy tales begin the same way: “Once upon a time,” and more often than not the narrative proceeds chronologically: first this happened, and then this happened.
    The most famous book with faery tales in the world, 1001 nights do not have a single story that starts with Once Upon a Time. The two most famous collectors of faery tales did used it in all their tales. It is an english expression, with origem in orality, but not a rule even in english.
    As chronology goes, the very start is a game with time, but as overall rule, all short stories have little disgression on past because the limitation of size. But not a rule written in stone.


    They typically all end the same way as well: “and they lived happily ever after.”
    They do? Who lived forever ever after with the wife of blue beard? Who was alongside the little mermaid, who got alongside jesus and pedro ever after, did red hidding wolf found a female wolf?

    Concerning the characters-- usually a maiden (often at story’s end revealed to be a princess), a handsome prince, and an indisputable villain such as a wicked witch– the story depicts them just as they are with little or no shading or nuance. There is little doubt over just who is good and who is evil, as the fairy tale proceeds from point A to point B, with few side trips through the woods.
    Princess - Prince stories are just one of dozens of kinds of faery tales. There is none in Blue Beard, Ugly Duckling, The Nightingale and the Rose, The Emperor's Nightingale, Thin Soldier, The woodman and the geenie, Red Hidding Hood, etc.
    And while it is more than natural that you can understand who is who in a faery tale, since they work with basic concepts and imediate understanding, the afirmation is dubious. Baba Yaga, personagem of several faery tales move from benefict to evil, Shahiyar the king of 1001 Nights is neither, Who is evil in Ugly Duckling or The Happy Prince? Ultimatelly even the idea that faery magical beings are good or evil is denied, they are fickle, with different kind of morality, as they are primary an agent of destiny or lucky.

    Fairytales are certainly “old,” but literature created primarily for adults is older still.
    Faery tales only became created for children when Brother Grimms picked stories from folklore to teach kids. The term - relatively new - was not meant to reffer to children stories, but basically with stories with fantastic turn-overs. (not even need to be magical). And if we seek the primordies of faery tales, we find only works for addults, from Appulleio to 1001 Nights.


    One of the world’s ancient works, The Iliad, is an epic poem about the Trojan War. As the poem opens, the war has been raging for nine long years, but rather than starting off with a lengthy recap of the conflict, with its causes and battles, the Iliad begins in media res – “in the middle of things.” The first scene of Book I introduces the poem’s hero in less than a triumphant light. Indeed, the first time we see Achilles, he’s having a flat-out, raging temper tantrum. Homer, the world’s first storyteller, does not “tell” his story– he “shows” us characters with human flaws straight out of the gate.
    Semantics. He tells. And he is even descriptive enough in several scenes. He lists the catalogue of ships even. But Homer was not an author of short stories, but epic poetry. The first short stories are more likely the fables-parables groups, like Aesop, which simple narratives. The show not tell is for example the use of animals. You do not need to describe "A strong man walked with a simplory dumb man and a smart man", you say "A lion walked with a donkey and a fox". The fact a short story is sustained by traditional narrative does not mean it is abusivelly taking space for all imagination with descriptions. It means he will show with narrative.

    A more modern medium for storytelling is the motion picture; on film especially, “showing” is much preferable to “telling.” We've all seen really bad movies that depend on an invisible ”voice-over” narrator to make sure we know what we should be seeing on the screen with our own eyes.
    And I have seen several bad movies without this narrator. But awesome good movies with an narrator, specially noir movies, which found how to use this narrator. Frankly, Blade Runner with Harison Ford narration is superior and it is innocent to think it is the narrator position and now how he was used by the director that will make a movie bad.
    But yes, being a visual art, showing is very suited for cinema.

    Another cinematic “no no” is burdening the story with long scenes full of expository dialogue: for instance, two cops are sitting around talking about a crime that already happened.
    You must tell Tarantino that his mockery of long dialogues still misunderstood.


    Scenes like this certainly bog down the movie which would have better had it started with showing the crime as it is committed. Most contemporary movies “hit the ground running,” so to speak, often before the opening credits have started rolling. That’s not just movies released in 2011. Produced way back in 1943, The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp begins with a convoy of military motorcycles loudly racing across the screen. Even then, the co-directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger wisely knew what grabs the audience, who naturally must have wondered where are all these soldiers rushing to--and why?
    Sorry, but 2001 does not start like that right? I want to know if you will tell Luis Bunnel that his idea that you do not even need a narrative for a movie is so awful. You seem to limitate the idea of cinema on thraillers, which produced a handful of memorable scenes, a few good movies and a truck loaded of trash based on non-stop action.

    In a short-story an intrusive narrator is like a busybody who tells the reader exactly what to think is the equivalent of “voice-over” narration in a movie.[
    Non-sense. The only problem of a narrator in a movie is that in movies we are educate for a narrative where the sound and the scenes - dialogue and lips moving - are syncronized. In Short stories and many stories, the position of the narrator - first person or third person - is a technique. Matters if they used it well or not. And the very "Master" of Short stories, Edgar Allan Poe loved first person narrator, telling us what he was seeing. And a certain Voltaire has his Candine filled with his meddling.

    Similarly, a short story that doesn't really “get going” until it fills in everything that has happened previous to the plot of the story bogs the work down.
    Anton Chekhov used to cut down the begining of his tales exactly because to him only mattered the narration of the events he described and not the past of the characters. A Short story is a frame of a big narrative, it does not leave space or time - that is why Cortazar compared to Photography and a full movie to a novel. (And the Iliad does not fill us with all that lead to the war by the way).


    Such extraneous material will likely fail to give its audience a reason to keep reading. If the plot of the current short story depends on a previously occurring incident, the writer can allude to certain facts from the “back story” with a judicious use of a non-intrusive flashback, which can be as brief as a sentence or two.
    He does not need to tell a single word if he does not want. Kafka rarelly game a reason of why a character was struct in his short stories, Borges much less.

    Instead of opening with, “Once upon a time,” with a narration set deep in the past, a good short story begins right in the middle of things with a “cinematic” scene.
    No, it does not. Once upon a time is really not deep in the past, but a fake present, but that is irrelevant, several great stories do not start in the middle because short stories are framed narratives, usually held in a single space or time.


    Sometimes a story gets weighed down with linear narration in long strings of simple declarative sentences with the same predicate – “is,” or “was.” Occasionally the reader has to plow through all the minutiae of the character’s biography, from his conception to the point of the story at hand – even in some cases, what’s going to happen to him when he dies. Some writers feel compelled to list every thing the character does during every waking hour of the day. In high school we all read about Gregor Samsa and how he wakes up one morning a “changed” man. Amateur stories written a century after Kafka’s famous story still can't shake that device. I can remember an article in a writer’s magazine in which an editor said that every time she received an unsolicited manuscript which begins with the protagonist waking up in the morning, she didn't read another word and shipped it right back to its author in the S.A.S.E. he so dutifully enclosed.
    This makes no sense... Kafka does not explain anything previously (or after) about Samsa, it just starts. And well, a writer magazine just gave a dumb advice...

    The obsession with “telling” spills over into the extensive descriptions of each and every character. No psychological quirk of the character’s personality is left to chance, and the physical makeup could have come from a physical description on a police blotter: “He was about 14 years old, 145 lbs, five ten in his stocking feet. Distinguishing marks: hairline scar above left eyebrow and a five-inch tattoo of a dragon on the right side of this neck.”
    Uh? Which stories have you been reading?Only Detective stories? Certainly no faery tales, who are very poor in describing some characters. For example, Red Hidding Hood has a Red Hood and is a young girl. Nothing Else. It is about perfect. And psychological what? It is one of those time people want to tell that the only character they know is dostoieviskian?

    In general, “showing” is more effective than telling is that the former allows the reader to be an active participant in the unfolding of the story. The writer provides just enough details to show us what the character is in relationship to the story. In this way, an author is like an impressionistic painter; just as the viewer’s eye fills in the soft lines and splotches of the painting, the reader takes the swatches of dialogue and brief glimpses of what the character does and fills in the blanks. This is a much more satisfying experience for the reader; if he is expected merely to sit there passively as he is told what happens and why, he may as well be watching some inane reality show on TV.
    Nice, good you are not telling about traditional faery tales or oral storytelling which have a level of interactivity unmatched by text.

    The desire for some beginning writers to be absolutely “honest” and forthright sometimes has the side effect of going overboard when the compulsion to “tell the story” is so strong. It’s counterintuitive to hold back and thus shy away from subtlety, understatement, and nuance. For instance, instead of having the author tells him exactly how the character happens to be feeling: “disappointed, sad, happy, ecstatic, relieved, angry,” ad infinitum, the reader would prefer to make that judgement himself. One would like to advise such a writer to fight such earnestness and instead, trust the reader to “get” what he wants him to know, by presenting the characters in a minimum of details---there may be few of them, but they are just vivid enough to make the desired point. “Show” the story, but whatever you do, don't “tell” it.
    Nothing should stop you to say "he is sad" if that is what meant to be said. However, the problem is your advice has no relation with faery tales, short stories, perspective of narrator, etc.

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    So, J, all methods of storytelling should be carbon copies of Kafka?

    I think you took a lot of this article way too literally. It contains a lot of good advice.

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    No, Poe is not like Kafka, neither Chekhov, neither 1001 nights, neither Perrault or Aesop, neither Voltaire, Oscar Wilde or Hans Christian Andersen. All examples in my reply.

    Seriously, what advice is really useful? "Show, not tell". Could easily have said "do not use much adjetives". Because some advices such as the position of the narrator or the use of flashback ,seems not advices at all.

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    Well.
    Thank you for your replies. I will begin my rebuttal by restating the purpose of this original thread. It was not in any way intended to be, strictly speaking, "advice" (the noun is spelled with a "c," by the way) but rather suggestions, which, as I've typed on these forums so many times, are to be taken with a "grain of salt."

    I will be the first to admit that the thread was not written bluntly enough to avoid the misreadings and misunderstandings evident in the some of the comments, which seem to me a result of the repliers' tendencies to fail to see the forest for the trees --to use yet another cliché.

    By this I mean, some of the replies take issue with my choice of examples and figures of speech used to illustrate the main idea of the thread posting.

    In this extensive reply to the replies I'll try to answer the repliers' concerns individually, followed by a boiled-down version of the salient points of the original thread, the "take away message," to use yet a third cliché.


    Quote Originally Posted by Dougy View Post

    What I mean is make your post aesthetically pleasing to the eye. No one likes to read reams of words. Your post isn't too bad - it's broken down into paragraphs. Try images. I hope this helps,
    The only problem with this suggestion is that the subject is writing, specifically the writing of short stories. I don't know why or how "images" would contribute to a discussion about the wielding of words.

    Quote Originally Posted by YesNo View Post
    The Telling version and the Showing version do not seem like the same story. Evidence for this is that the two versions could be concatenated together to make one story without any serious overlap. The Telling version stops when information is provided about the sub. The Showing version starts with the sub in the classroom.

    Also I find information such as "317-B" and "Fifth Period" in the Showing version to be distracting, sort of like adding too many adjectives. Such information makes me want to start speed reading. I suspect it is just to increase the word count.

    Actually, they are the same story-- I ought to know, I wrote it. (Actually, I lifted the plot from an episode of The Simpsons which originally aired several seasons ago and changed the gender of the protagonist.(Originally I thought this was one of the eps written by Conan O'Brien, but I was wrong. It did, however, feature the voice of Dustin Hoffman under a pseudonym.) You'll notice that the "telling" section contains no dialogue nor action. Instead it "tells" biographical data about the protagonist, both irrelevant and relevant. The former can be deleted and the latter can be incorporated into the story itself. In the "showing" section, the only datum used is the bit about Donny's estranged father. Maybe some of the other facts may appear unobtrusively in the rest of the story (which--I should remind you--is hypothetical!) The "317B" (number of the classroom) and "Fifth Period" are short-hand to provide a little verisimilitude to the classroom setting as well as time of day.


    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    I have no idea who Gruber is, but there could be nor premisse smore false. An oral storyteller has much more resources to show than a writer. The manipulate the audience with their changes of voice, movement of hand, body position, etc. The advice is very nice, but you simple do not compare two different artworks by the same standards and expect to made a fair judgment of it.

    It is my understanding that Gruber is some wheel out in Hollywood. I only copped the word from his title as a starting point to distinguish mere telling from showing.Of course you are right about storytelling as performance. But my topic concerns written short stories.

    Semantics. When you tell a story, you show, you describe, you do in any form you want. It is all "telling".

    The "telling" I'm talking about is the kind in which there is straight narration without specific illustrations and examples such as dialogue and actions. In dialogue, both what the characters say and more importantly how they say it, with word choice and verbal structure, helps to show us who the characters are.

    Really? Where you? Is a true faery-tale your form of introduction into literature?

    Fairy tales were summoned as an example of stories driven mostly by linear and literal presentations rather than subtle insights into the characters through dialogue actions, and gestures. Since many if not all fairy tales often end with some kind of lesson or "moral," they do not leave room for the reader to make his own judgement.

    The most famous book with faery tales in the world, 1001 nights do not have a single story that starts with Once Upon a Time. The two most famous collectors of faery tales did used it in all their tales. It is an english expression, with origem in orality, but not a rule even in english.

    Again, "Once upon a time" was only an example about how many, not all, fairy tales begin.

    Semantics. He tells. And he is even descriptive enough in several scenes. He lists the catalogue of ships even. But Homer was not an author of short stories, but epic poetry.

    Again, Homer was enlisted as an example of a writer who begins his work in a dynamic way. Nobody said that he didn't employ descriptions, hence the famous "Homeric simile." The point that the thread tried to bring across was the idea that the descriptions and action should be vivid, without a hell of a lot of narration "telling" us what's going on, since we can see it with our own eyes.

    You must tell Tarantino that his mockery of long dialogues still misunderstood.
    I did not and can't imagine using Tarantino as an example of anything.

    Sorry, but 2001 does not start like that right? I want to know if you will tell Luis Bunnel that his idea that you do not even need a narrative for a movie is so awful. You seem to limitate the idea of cinema on thraillers, which produced a handful of memorable scenes, a few good movies and a truck loaded of trash based on non-stop action.

    The action movies reference was merely an illustration or example. The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp is only superficially a "war" movie. It is, however, a brilliant, insightful, and comic study of a vivid character.

    Non-sense. The only problem of a narrator in a movie is that in movies we are educate for a narrative where the sound and the scenes - dialogue and lips moving - are syncronized.
    Voice-over narration is obtrusive when it is used to substitute for scenes that should be shown on film, so that the viewer can see for himself how the drama unfolds.

    (And the Iliad does not fill us with all that lead to the war by the way).

    Which is exactly what I said.

    This makes no sense... Kafka does not explain anything previously (or after) about Samsa, it just starts. And well, a writer magazine just gave a dumb advice...

    This is a complete misinterpretation of what the original thread said. Of course, Kafka does not give us reasons for Samsa's transformation, but effectively shows us what has happened to him.
    Re: the magazine editor. The point was she was sick and tired of manuscripts that began with the protagonist waking up in the morning-- that's all that was.


    Nothing should stop you to say "he is sad" if that is what meant to be said.

    Yes it should stop you! The narrator should never, ever write a sentence such as "Donny was sad" or "Donny had never felt so angry in his life." Show us his sadness; show us his anger through what he does and what he says. Then the reader can make his own judgement over the emotion Donny is experiencing.
    .
    Finally, the main point of the original thread was to try to make one's short stories come alive by showing the character rather than telling us about him and specifically, how showing is especially preferable in the opening of a story.

    In the specific genre of short fiction, economy of expression is one of the most significant elements. Don't just take my word for it; "Google" the phrase "James Joyce and scrupulous meanness."

    Since every word counts in a short story, it's best to use words that show rather than waste them on extraneous narration or "telling."
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 03-12-2011 at 06:18 PM. Reason: deleted a line +clarified the Simpsons reference

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    This advice concerns short story writing does it apply to novels ?
    "L'art de la statistique est de tirer des conclusions erronèes a partir de chiffres exacts." Napoléon Bonaparte.

    "Je crois que beaucoup de gens sont dans cet état d’esprit: au fond, ils ne sentent pas concernés par l’Histoire. Mais pourtant, de temps à autre, l’Histoire pose sa main sur eux." Michel Houellebecq.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky
    Nothing should stop you to say "he is sad" if that is what meant to be said.

    Yes it should stop you! The narrator should never, ever write a sentence such as "Donny was sad" or "Donny had never felt so angry in his life." Show us his sadness; show us his anger through what he does and what he says. Then the reader can make his own judgement over the emotion Donny is experiencing.
    I'm going to have to disagree with this. I agree, in most cases it is better to show the character's emotions, but there can be positives to using a direct stylistic choice, especially if all you've done is "show" and not "tell," a direct statement like that can make it stand out and have a heavier impact.

    And, while "show don't tell" is a good rule, it can be overdone, like anything else. Not everything has to be shown, nor should it. Too much "show" can make a story just as monotonous as too much "show." For novice writers, though, it's best not to even bring up this distinction.

    And, AuntShecky, I wouldn't insult JCamilo on his grammatical errors. From my understanding, English is his third language. I think he does pretty good with it, considering.

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    JCamilo just has poor reading comprehension. He kept taking my words out of context too when debating me about studying art from a scientific perspective. If you're gonna go on a rant on what someone else is saying, at least make sure you understand what it is they're saying. Otherwise act more civil.

    The point of the Kafka reference was that writers now always use the "woke up in the morning" device to start their stories instead of starting from a point relevant to the plot.

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    It is my understanding that Gruber is some wheel out in Hollywood. I only copped the word from his title as a starting point to distinguish mere telling from showing.Of course you are right about storytelling as performance. But my topic concerns written short stories.
    I understand Gruber is a hook for the text, but the problem is saying his advice should be wrong. He is talking about oral storytelling, so he cannt be wrong at all.

    The "telling" I'm talking about is the kind in which there is straight narration without specific illustrations and examples such as dialogue and actions. In dialogue, both what the characters say and more importantly how they say it, with word choice and verbal structure, helps to show us who the characters are.
    Yes, but all of this is telling. Straight action, lyrical, descriptive, etc.

    Fairy tales were summoned as an example of stories driven mostly by linear and literal presentations rather than subtle insights into the characters through dialogue actions, and gestures. Since many if not all fairy tales often end with some kind of lesson or "moral," they do not leave room for the reader to make his own judgement.
    I have no problem of faery tales being an example. That is not what you did. You did a general affirmation and said a couple of things which are just not true. Anyways, Faery tales are off many kinds. They do abuse of dialogue, gestures, etc. The very woodland of Red hiding hood is less a space for action and more a symbolism. They were a bad example as something general, you could have picked a specific work and save from this problem.

    Again, "Once upon a time" was only an example about how many, not all, fairy tales begin. What is "origem"?
    Again, it was not an example. You did not said : Sleeping beauty starts with… You said all. It is false. A minority of the faery tales start with it.
    Origem – origin.

    Again, Homer was enlisted as an example of a writer who begins his work in a dynamic way. Nobody said that he didn't employ descriptions, hence the famous "Homeric simile." The point that the thread tried to bring across was the idea that the descriptions and action should be vivid, without a hell of a lot of narration "telling" us what's going on, since we can see it with our own eyes.
    Homer is much more descriptive than anything else. In fact, our Homer is guilty of “he said, he cried, he talked, he is anger… Well, you can say it is their translators…

    I did not and can't imagine using Tarantino as an example of anything.
    A good example of good movies based on long dialogues. Plus Woody Allen.


    The action movies reference was merely an illustration or example. The Life and Times of Colonel Blimp is only superficially a "war" movie. It is, however, a brilliant, insightful, and comic study of a vivid character.
    Then you should not affirm that action movies are going to be bogged by dialogues. It is like saying Matrix Revolutions is bogged because the dialogues…

    Voice-over narration is obtrusive when it is used to substitute for scenes that should be shown on film, so that the viewer can see for himself how the drama unfolds.
    Again, do not tell me this is just an example. There is a considerable amount of movies where a dialogue is more important than scenery. They will talk, display scenes, show anything they want telling, than just show the shooting. All depends how it is used by the director.

    (And the Iliad does not fill us with all that lead to the war by the way).

    Which is exactly what I said.
    No, you said that the story does not get going, it will bog down the work, until it fills all that happened previously. The Iliad just fills with part of what happened and again, several stories do not use flashback or anything else. In Fact, the narrative of Divine Comedy barely explains how Dante got where he is.

    This makes no sense... Kafka does not explain anything previously (or after) about Samsa, it just starts. And well, a writer magazine just gave a dumb advice...
    This is a complete misinterpretation of what the original thread said. Of course, Kafka does not give us reasons for Samsa's transformation, but effectively shows us what has happened to him.

    It shows us his reaction afterwards. Not what happened before, as you claimed.

    Yes it should stop you! The narrator should never, ever write a sentence such as "Donny was sad" or "Donny had never felt so angry in his life." Show us his sadness; show us his anger through what he does and what he says. Then the reader can make his own judgement over the emotion Donny is experiencing.
    Very pretty…

    “"I'll engage they did," said Gabriel, "but they forget that my wife here takes three mortal hours to dress herself."” – James Joyce (The Dead)

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    Quote Originally Posted by cyberbob View Post
    JCamilo just has poor reading comprehension. He kept taking my words out of context too when debating me about studying art from a scientific perspective. If you're gonna go on a rant on what someone else is saying, at least make sure you understand what it is they're saying. Otherwise act more civil.

    The point of the Kafka reference was that writers now always use the "woke up in the morning" device to start their stories instead of starting from a point relevant to the plot.
    I have no problem of understanding, you however have a strong problem writing. How a phrase that claim that writers "always" use "woke up in the morning" (which is not kafka device, as the phrase is notable for keep the verb in the very end of the sentence) can mean anything? It is just false.

    A dude complains many people send texts which starts with someone waking on the morning and she dismiss the text without reading is like I pointed is doing something dumb. She cannt see if the story is good not not, She cannt see if the story is good, she cannt even tell if the story is kafkanesque. What will happen? It is like some classical editor telling Virgil: You cann't start like Homer, everyone does. In 2000 years people will start pledging to the muses!

    Sorry, but it is beyond me how you can conclude from saying she did a good advice as I did not understood that many people start like Kafka.

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    Here are my observations:

    While there may be an unfortunate obsession with “telling,” I think you have here an unfortunate obsession with “showing.” From my understanding of what you’re saying, to tell is to state explicitly and to show is to state implicitly. In truth, you could have just told me that, saving both of us our time, instead of showing me through a bunch of unnecessary examples. Moreover, telling this distinction probably would have been a lot clearer to the reader. Indeed – JCamilo has seemed to miss the whole point, carping on about how unsound the examples are (which I agree with, but this slip is besides the main point here).

    If brevity, the “economy of expression,” is to be considered and valued, then telling and showing—explicit and implicit writing—both have their places. In fiction, you can often say more with less by showing. In this, I feel like the opposite has happened; there are many words, but not much has been said, nor has it been said very clearly. The use of examples reflects your priority of showing over anything, when your first priority as a writer ought to be the economy of expression itself. At any rate, I now intend to go eat cheese puffs, drink mountain dew, and play video games for 6 hours straight.
    Dare to know

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    Let me just point: I am not saying the examples are bad. They are. But I am pointing she is trying to say something that may have vallue (show not tell) but is trying to push over examples (some with considering false afirmations) and then jumping to conclusions that lead to her "show, not tell", but trully, it didnt.
    Her examples are mostly badly, but her reasoning is too. She forces conclusions which are not there. So, I did not lost the point: I know what she wants to express, but she must do better and this start analysing better the exampels she gave to avoid such absurd afirmations like the sequence of gross generalizations she made.

    As your first part, yes, she is too fixe on the word show, while it means exactly what you said. As such, trying to impose those examples, she is more telling, than showing.

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