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

  1. #16
    I'm glad to see this thread has generated discussion and I do feel that the main point here (at least as I understand it) of not relying too heavily on directly desciptive narrative is a good one.

    I do think, however, that the main example used by AS falls flat. The idea makes sense - tell the same story twice, once giving us all the details in a narrative lump and once with a great deal more finesse. As she says:

    Please allow me to illustrate this with two openings from a hypothetical story, the same scene written two different ways.
    The problem is that the stories here are not the same. The second story picks up where the first one left off and gives us almost none of the same information as the first one. Certainly there is a mention of Donny's father, but everything else is completely new; it is not simply

    the same story, opening by “showing”
    but something quite different, and that is where the problem lies. The stories don't show us that the same scene can be written two different ways but that there are different ways to write different stories, and that misses the mark of the original point.

    Nonetheless, the point itself remains valid.
    - Rem

    Fan of the written word.
    Writer by trade and by fate.
    Author - One Day, One Thousand blog project.

  2. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    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.
    The examples could have been better, yes. But even if they were bulletproof this piece would still have been unsuccessful. For that, there's no point in even going into why the examples are bad.
    Last edited by Cunninglinguist; 03-11-2011 at 11:00 PM.
    Dare to know

  3. #18
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    Maybe, but the only way to correct the work is probally working with the examples, without this approach sustained by misconception and gross generalization, then applaying the logical approach to confirm the vallue of show not tell.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    Maybe, but the only way to correct the work is probally working with the examples, without this approach sustained by misconception and gross generalization, then applaying the logical approach to confirm the vallue of show not tell.
    Hmm... Maybe! No offense to the author, but I think I would just toss this one in the waste-can. The writing experience is always useful, but I don't think that this piece can be salvaged. It doesn't say all that much; the thesis and the argument can be summed in a paragraph. Imo, the examples are pretty much fluff, useless, time-consuming, time-wasting, obscuring, beclouding, and the argument would be clearer and more comprehensible without them. But since 96% of this work is examples, deleting what makes the work bad would void the work itself.
    Dare to know

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    Maybe better examples too, she mentions only 1 master of short story, but mentions one of his long works with Kafka. While it can work, as his long works are long short stories, Joyce is hardly a master of short stories (have good ones) and Homer is obviously not (misplacing increased by the idea that his works are unities, and not originally presented as fragments that only centuries latter are put together in that order). None of the masters Poe, Borges, Tchekhov, Maupassant, Hawthorne, Kipling, Hemingway, Borges...

  6. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    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.
    The only point of that passage is to avoid starting a short story with the protagonist waking up in the morning, since that device has been overused. This is how a story written nearly one hundred years ago, "The Metamorphosis" begins, but I never criticized the effectiveness, subtlety, or understatement of Kafka's story, nor do I believe that I said that it was a Kafkaesque device.

    The purpose of the original posting was a kind of a public service, as some--not all!--of the works posted in the Short Stories forum of the LitNet are often --not always!--bogged down by excessive literal "telling." The OP also suggested that we should try to open the stories in a more dynamic way. That's all that it was.

    Even so, if any of us ever became bold enough to think that our short stories were ready to submit to a literary magazine to be considered for publication, we might be
    disappointed when they were rejected -- precisely for the reasons outlined in the OP. I thought that "Short Story sharing" included offering suggestions as to how we might mutually improve our work without bristling so much when someone attempts to do that.

    Incidentally, all of us -- myself included!-- should try to remember to proofread both our short stories and our LitNet replies as well.


    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    Maybe better examples too, she mentions only 1 master of short story, but mentions one of his long works with Kafka. While it can work, as his long works are long short stories, Joyce is hardly a master of short stories (have good ones) and Homer is obviously not (misplacing increased by the idea that his works are unities, and not originally presented as fragments that only centuries latter are put together in that order). None of the masters Poe, Borges, Tchekhov, Maupassant, Hawthorne, Kipling, Hemingway, Borges...
    I beg to differ with you re: Joyce, as the works in his Dubliners are considered to have the most influence on contemporary fiction. His novel, by the bye, Ulysses, leads the list of "Best Novels of the Twentieth Century."

    As far as Poe, Borges, Chekhov, et al.: Had I cited those works in the OP, I'd still be typing.

    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.
    Thank you.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 03-12-2011 at 04:01 PM.

  7. #22
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    Ok, Aunt, I edited and included the part you edited.

    The only point of that passage is to avoid starting a short story with the protagonist waking up in the morning, since that device has been overused. This is how a story written nearly one hundred years ago, "The Metamorphosis" begins, but I never criticized the effectiveness, subtlety, or understatement of Kafka's story, nor do I believe that I said that it was a Kafkaesque device.
    And I never said you did. I said talked about the editor. He is the one which work is awful, judging a text by the first line and with this refusing to do his work, which is to the read, selected texts, and surprise, edit. It is soo foolish his logic (a story about a guy who wake on the night turned in a grasshoper would be read by him, a story about a guy who wakes in the morning and discovers he is the only guy on the earth who can still sing not). And even the premisse is false: the afore mentioned Once Upon a Time starts several stories... the evocation to the muses several stories... What that editor was doing was not a service to literature.

    The purpose of the original posting was a kind of a public service, as some--not all!--of the works posted in the Short Stories forum of the LitNet are often --not always!--bogged down by excessive literal "telling." The OP also suggested that we should try to open the stories in a more dynamic way. That's all that it was.
    Aunt, the advice: Show, not tell is not bad. I never said they werent. I pointed you picked exemples badly (and misjudged some of the examples) and did not developed your argument from them. Stuff like the perspectve of the narrator, economy or not of language, are not part of Show, not tell. Baroque artists also show, not tell with the excessive details they have. The dynamism is a matter of style, Hemingway is one, Chekhov is another. Both are good and both masters of show, not tell (In a general rule, great writers often show, not tell.)

    Even so, if any of us ever became bold enough to think that our short stories were ready to submit to a literary magazine to be considered for publication, we might be
    disappointed when they were rejected -- precisely for the reasons outlined in the OP. I thought that "Short Story sharing" included offering suggestions as to how we might mutually improve our work without bristling so much when someone attempts to do that.

    Incidentally, all of us -- myself included!-- should try to remember to proofread both our short stories and our LitNet replies as well.
    Well, I think it is useful to pick good short stories, there is some who are the best for this. Let's say "The lady and the Dog" by Chekhov, "The Black Cat" by Poe, "The experiment of Dr.Heiddeiger" by Hawthorne, "The Dead" by Joyce, "Hunger Artist" by Kafka, "The Nightingale and the Emperor" by Andersen, "Death and Compass" by Borges, etc. (Of course, random examples, there is a list of good short stories or good authors who could be here, I just tried to mix the examples styles and please you with Joyce best short story ) and find how those authors work the short story, telling what is necessary, showing when it is necessary,etc.
    Anyways, this is not an academy, i think we can all live with talk and editing.


    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    I beg to differ with you re: Joyce, as the works in his Dubliners are considered to have the most influence on contemporary fiction. His novel, by the bye, Ulysses, leads the list of "Best Novels of the Twentieth Century."
    Joyce influence on modern fiction is due to Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. His short stories are good, but he is nowhere near influential those guys. He does not measure up with Chekhov, Borges or Kafka on modern short story and none of them go for Poe.

    As far as Poe, Borges, Chekhov, et al.: Had I cited those works in the OP, I'd still be typing.
    Change Homer for Poe, Faery tales for Detecive Stories, Gruber for Hawthorne, Metamorphosis for Hunger Artist, the movies for CHekhov, your example for Borges, some idiotical advice from some guy in a magazine for Stevenson advices... You are trying to write about short stories, you have to work and study the masters. They are the best example to understand what you want to understand.
    Last edited by JCamilo; 03-12-2011 at 04:29 PM.

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    J Camilo --Please look at #21, the reply just above your latest.
    I think I was still typing, proofreading, and editing it at the same time you were posting #22.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    J Camilo --Please look at #21, the reply just above your latest.
    I think I was still typing, proofreading, and editing it at the same time you were posting #22.
    Yes, I edited and included on my previous post a reply to that part.

  10. #25
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    Thank you, AuntShecky, for taking the time to write and present this example. I don't think anyone serious about learning to write can presume to dismiss good advise.

    Your counsel on "show don't tell" has crossed my eyes and ears many times over the years. It's always helpful to be reminded of these basic guidelines for good story telling. I for one feel continually reminded as I write that it's not as easy as it looks or sounds.

    The three words stand on their own. Your examples are spot on, but even if they were not, the value is in the diamond, not where one finds it.

  11. #26
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    JC I like your logic.
    You think they're selling you. Truth is, they're selling you out.

  12. #27
    The Sultan MatthewFarlow's Avatar
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    Frankly, I don't understand why this is so controversial. It's just advice. Take it if you've been convinced, leave it if you haven't.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MatthewFarlow View Post
    Frankly, I don't understand why this is so controversial. It's just advice. Take it if you've been convinced, leave it if you haven't.
    This.

    Certain posters here seem to have to dismantle anything and everything that isn't up to their intellectual standards.

  14. #29
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    And they are fully within their rights to do so.
    You think they're selling you. Truth is, they're selling you out.

  15. #30
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    I supposed we could have all our own threads, where we can say anything we want and nobody replies. That would certainly build an interesting community. I will call It Blogs.

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