Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Let Me Show You

Dearest Blog Followers,

My sincerest apologies for my extended hiatus.  September took my soul and hid it among my piles of unending work.  The first weeks of October took my mind and made brownies for a bake-sale.  I'm still in recovery mode, but I'm back, sort of, and I plan to be a more regular blogger.


Okay, on to the real meat.

Oh, wait, I recently returned to my vegetarian roots (root-vegetables?).  Perhaps I should say, on to the real kale.

How do you know when to Show and when to Tell? 

Okay, and now we all groan together and then get back to work, right?

No, I'm serious.  A few months ago I entered a contest in which everyone who entered their first three chapters automatically got a three-chap critique from an agent.  So, DUH! I entered.  In looking back at my entry, I cringe slightly, as it has gone through numerous revisions since, but I gave her what I had.  And, of course, it is my first novel, which I continue to beat into submission despite its own intentions.  So, let's just say, it's not super.  I'm still learning the craft.  I'm rusty like that drink you make with Scotch... or how you feel after you drink it, anyway.  So, yeah, I hadn't expected to win.  No way.

What I had expected were slightly less-than-generic comments.

When I got them, I wigged out.  Yeah, anger, etc.  You name it, I felt it.  The comments included the old stand-bys of "Show more" and "Remove clichés" and "Cut back on the wordiness", etc.  And that was it.  No specifics.  So, in my wiggy-outtiness, I sent those three chapters and the general comments to a woman in my critique group who, I might add, is awesome in her straight-forwardness and won't beat around the bush.

If nothing else, she said that the clichés weren't my problem.  *whew*

But that brings us back to show v. tell.  She and I began a long discussion about it, when telling is too much, and—here's the kicker—when showing is too much.

I believe in showing.  I do. Here's a great blog post that explains my understanding of it. And, yeah, I probably tell too much in my first three chapters.  I'm considering rewriting them blind and changing the basic premise altogether, anyway.  That aside, here's my question:

Can you show too much?

If you show EVERYTHING, does your reader get overwhelmed?  By showing everything, are we not trying to tell our readers that every minor flip of hair or memory is of the utmost vital information?  Sometimes events and actions occur to develop character, not necessarily to move the plot.  Are these to be given equal weight?

Or am I, in wondering these things, making the age-old mistakes of the green writer?

In the blog post I linked to above, in the first scene example she gives, the last paragraph—the one that gives the punch to the dialogue—is technically showing.  Am I wrong?  Seriously, folks, am I?  You can't show EVERYTHING!  If you did, we'd be reading War and Peace every time we picked up a novel, but even Tolstoy tells us things!

Help me out, folks.  I'm pretty sure I'm missing something here.


Misty Waters said...

Thanks for sharing that link! I had someone tell me to show, not tell on a post a while back, and I've been trying to figure this whole thing out ever since (I don't have a critique group/person/whatever. *sigh*).
I think, though, that if done well, you CAN'T show too much. Maybe it depends on good dialogue vs bad dialogue? Maybe? IDK. Who am I? Still green, that's who.

Jennifer Walkup said...

Hey there - Thanks for posting the link to my blog post above.:) I think you are absolutely right in that you can show too much and yes, there is absolutely a place for telling as well. I am planning a follow up blog post on the idea as soon as I can wrap my brain around a way to explain it - ha!:)

Cruella Collett said...

Yay, glad you're back! I do hope September and October will give you your soul and mind back, though...

As for showing vs telling - I agree with you that it is tough knowing exactly what constitutes as showing, and I also agree that too much can be, well, too much. Telling must be allowed every now and then, no doubt about it.

RosieC said...

Misty, it is the eternal struggle. Glad to hear I'm not alone.

Jennifer, I'm happy to promo your blog, and I hope you don't mind my picking on your example. I love your examples and you do an excellent job of showing the difference (instead of just telling us, teehee). I'll be really interested to see what you come up with when you do the follow up post. :)

RosieC said...

Cruella, I'll have to let you know what I get back. It's still TBD, unfortunately :)

That's the thing, though, right? There has to be telling every now and then. I know you have to show for the majority, but it's impossible to show everything, right? Argh!

Jennifer Walkup said...

No I don't mind at all! It's actually something I should have touched on more in the post. Also, I don't think showing always means saying more. Sometimes, it's saying less or just saying it better/different. That probably makes no sense. Sigh. I need more coffee and then I'll work on the post.:)

RosieC said...

Gosh, I hope the coffee helps, cuz I can't make heads or tails of this stuff! :)

Cruella Collett said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carol Riggs said...

(Great post, Rosie, btw!)
Yes! I think Jennifer is hitting the nail closer to its head here--I think I'm figuring that out as I rewrite my own first chapter after an agent who told me (me! gasp!) in a critique that I was Telling instead of Showing.

So Jennifer said it's about saying it better/different, and I've been discovering that if I tweak the wording and make some things more natural and like logical internal dialogue than straight and boring explanation, it's more Showing and not so much Telling. This probably doesn't make sense w/o examples, however. :o)

LTM said...

missed ya, hon! Glad to see you're back. The best thing I've done for working out showing v. telling is just reading. Reading books I liked critically in a "how do they do it" way.

best of luck~ :o)

Carol Riggs said...

Another good site (found from a comment on Jennifer's site) that has been looking at this subject:

Charissa Weaks

There, lots of writers try their hand at SHOWING this difference! Nice. A note from a guy named Mark Souza sums up the dilemma well--you CAN use both. And Charissa talks about weak verbs like is, was, and were contributing to the prob!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Your September is my October, so all I will say is Welcome back.

Related Posts with Thumbnails