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

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    You can reply to blogs.

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    Oh,man... can I call it facebook then?

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    You can comment on FB postings... You can delete them, though, so it works!

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    What that editor was doing was not a service to literature.


    But she was doing a service for readers who also may be tired of trite situations and clichés. (The situation wasn't trite when Kafka first used it, I hasten to add.)


    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.

    Says who?


    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.

    I've put in four decades of doing just that -- how many more decades do you think I need?



    Quote Originally Posted by firefangled View Post
    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.

    Thank you for this comment, firefangled.

    The OP arose after spending nearly 4 years of reading several entries in the "Short Story Sharing" forum, and aside from the usual grammar and spelling errors, the most prevalent characteristic was that many (not all!) of the LitNet stories tend to "tell" more than they "show."

    Who knew that posting three little words would be so gosh-darned threatening?

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    But she was doing a service for readers who also may be tired of trite situations and clichés. (The situation wasn't trite when Kafka first used it, I hasten to add.)
    No, she wasn't. She is just snobbing people and not doing her work. She could not explain those poor amateurs how they could be wrong, what they are doing better. She could actually be putting down some good author for refusing his work due to some first lines. And her reason is just ridiculous. There is a tirade about Balzac who had an assistent that stole one of his works. And Balzac was happy for him. Not sad at all. At this point this person should notice the mechanism of literature is filled with mentions, quoting, copy-pasting and writting like Kafka is hardly a signal of bad writting. The given editor would delight Borges because she would refuse him.

    Says who?
    The entire history of literature. Joyce short stories have nowhere the influential power and impact of Ulysses and Finnegans wake. They are hardly very inovative. Guys like Maupassant, Borges, Tchekhov, Poe are not only authors of the main short stories, the guys who are copied, the most reverenced, but also thinkers of the style of short story. Joyce did nothing of this. It is like, just because he has some nice poems, trying to ask according to whom he is not as influential as Yeats...

    I've put in four decades of doing just that -- how many more decades do you think I need?
    I do not know. Maybe the best age to read Chekhov is 56 years. Who knows? The point is when you decided to work this text about short stories you mentioned a great novelist, a great epic poet, some guy you said is from hollywood... No wonder some of your afirmations can easily be dismissed by short stories of some of those guys.
    Last edited by JCamilo; 03-15-2011 at 04:05 PM.

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    I did not intend to write the complete story behind the off-the-cuff examples in the opening post of this thread. Since that time this seemingly innoucous thread has inspired numerous contentious issues, among them that the "telling" and "showing" examples are two "different " stories. As the author of both, I respectfully disagree. In order to prove the point that both the "telling" and the "showing" examples are two sides of the same story, I have completed the erstwhile hypothetical story which appears here.

    Undoubtedly, there will be a reader or two who will passionately proclaim that he or she has found parts of the completed story which "tell" rather than "show." Should that be the case, one can only say that few of us are perfect.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    Undoubtedly, there will be a reader or two who will passionately proclaim that he or she has found parts of the completed story which "tell" rather than "show." Should that be the case, one can only say that few of us are perfect.
    Implied here that showing is always best. I must assert my point again; the priority of a writer should not be "showing" or "telling" but ought to be the economy of expression. More oft than not, showing is a better way to go in fiction, but not always. In something like philosophy it is often more appropriate to tell. The original post takes a method of showing, in line with its assertions. And while ipso facto consistent with itself, it lacks outside justification.

    Anyways, even firefangled, in all the kind words, has backed my general argument up here: "the value is in the diamond, not where one finds it." But why does it have to be hidden in the first place?
    Dare to know

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    Just one note, the vague "Show, not tell" does not imply in brevity or clarity. It implies in describing a sittuation so the reader can capture the feelings expressed in the scene, rather than the writer telling exactly what was there.

    Careless examples:

    "Paul was angry."

    tell was is showed by

    "Paul bite his tongue and punched the wall until his fingers were purple."

    It is not different from Mallarme poetics, which was painting the impression of the object and not the object itself. Except, "Show, not tell" was just a crafted form. It does not imply telling (which is also showing), it implies excessive use of a form of discuss. More than even, Chesterton "There is no rule of architeture to build castles in the sky" can be with good will used here.

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    I was once told by a literary agent to "show not tell" but I don't see the necessity. Possibly the greatest short story writer of the 20th century was Somerset Maugham. Note the title of the article below and see from the examples given why he deserves that epithet.

    http://robertarood.wordpress.com/201...ller-of-tales/
    "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 JCamilo View Post
    Just one note, the vague "Show, not tell" does not imply in brevity or clarity. It implies in describing a sittuation so the reader can capture the feelings expressed in the scene, rather than the writer telling exactly what was there.

    Careless examples:

    "Paul was angry."

    tell was is showed by

    "Paul bite his tongue and punched the wall until his fingers were purple."

    It is not different from Mallarme poetics, which was painting the impression of the object and not the object itself. Except, "Show, not tell" was just a crafted form. It does not imply telling (which is also showing), it implies excessive use of a form of discuss. More than even, Chesterton "There is no rule of architeture to build castles in the sky" can be with good will used here.
    One of the primary reasons we "show" in fiction is because it is more concise than telling. Your second example in fact tells considerably more than just Paul's anger. It tells that he's angry, his degree of anger, perhaps in a larger context something about this character; it tells that he was so angry that he bit his tongue and punched the wall until his fingers were purple. We can infer quite a lot, which you would have to use many more words to explicitly state or "tell." The other primary reason we might want to "show" is the tangibility of concrete words and the theatre of the mind.
    Dare to know

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    No denial, the second example do expose more than the first. It was obviously intentional, as not everytime you are "showing" you use less words, sometimes more. And indeed you can come with more than just anger, but that is more or less the intention of using such impressionist method... allow the reader to modify the text on his own.

    Of course, not every "showing" is like this, sometimes just sayind "red" hood implies that the little girl is not part of the nobility.

    What cann't be confuded, as some are, is that showing implies in economy of language and precision. It does not. Medieval art, with all their allegories, loved to "show", since few could read or understand the depth of intelectual reasoning, much of the art style of the time was "excessive" because they had to exemplify to the peasantry all that was told in the speech and texts. The intricated medieval allegories are born this way and which "shows" that showing can walk in the other route of clarity and brevity.

    I still point the reason we say "show, not tell" is because the expression is nice. Telling is showing, it could be "show, not spoil", like you pointed in your first post, show here is akin to implicity, telling to explicity, and telling can be both.

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    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cunninglinguist View Post
    One of the primary reasons we "show" in fiction is because it is more concise than telling. Your second example in fact tells considerably more than just Paul's anger. It tells that he's angry, his degree of anger, perhaps in a larger context something about this character; it tells that he was so angry that he bit his tongue and punched the wall until his fingers were purple. We can infer quite a lot, which you would have to use many more words to explicitly state or "tell." The other primary reason we might want to "show" is the tangibility of concrete words and the theatre of the mind.
    The examples given are not of equal length or strength. If the first was written as: Paul wasn't merely angry, he was apoplectic.
    It's impact would be equal to that of the second.
    "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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    The examples are lame. But with only one purpose, to show that showing does not imply in economy of language. Paul is just a dumb footballer fan and his team lost a penalty kick.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    No denial, the second example do expose more than the first. It was obviously intentional, as not everytime you are "showing" you use less words, sometimes more...

    What cann't be confuded, as some are, is that showing implies in economy of language and precision. It does not.
    Indeed, as in the case of the original post. There was much showing that, while it implied the "diamond," unfortunately also implied a lot of unnecessary stuff. It is a clear case where showing caused the author to use many, many more words beyond what was necessary.

    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    The examples are lame. But with only one purpose, to show that showing does not imply in economy of language. Paul is just a dumb footballer fan and his team lost a penalty kick.


    Quote Originally Posted by Emil Miller View Post
    The examples given are not of equal length or strength. If the first was written as: Paul wasn't merely angry, he was apoplectic.
    It's impact would be equal to that of the second.
    They are certainly not of equal strength, which is my point. Even if we made the alterations you suggest, we can still extrapolate much more information, relevant or not, from the "showing" example than the "telling" example.
    Last edited by Cunninglinguist; 03-19-2011 at 03:16 PM.
    Dare to know

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    The main reason why it is better to show rather than tell is to allow the reader to engage with the characters and his/her feelings.

    If you tell the reader - Cindy felt very cold when she entered the room - what does that really mean? Every person has a different tolerance to low temperature. An Eskimo reading this and an African Bedouin might have wildly differing interpretations (ok, I'm being facetious but you get the message). The writer is imposing his own feelings on the reader rather than allowing the reader to discover things for themselves.

    If you show the reader - The velocity of blood in Cindy's veins seemed to stall and her fingers lose all sense of feeling as she entered the room - conveys much more. The reader is invited to imagine how Cindy felt and consequently the impression of her discomfort are conveyed more effectively.

    In the former readers rely on the writer's own interpretation - in the latter readers are encouraged to come up with their own.

    Telling is short-hand, and at times serves its purpose. But continuous telling dismisses the reader from the equation.

    H

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