"Show, don't tell."

Discussion in 'Writer's Lounge' started by Jackie, 1 Aug 2018.

  1. Jackie

    Jackie Member

    "Show, don't tell," is among the first bits of advice that any writer is going to hear. It's typically treated as an absolute, even though writing "rules" are typically anything but.

    Do you think that writers tend to emphasize this rule a little too much? Do you think there are exceptions to this rule?

    This was Chekov's advice about how to show vs. tell. However, would "The moon was shining," be better if the broken glass never came into play? (I have no idea what the context of this advice is. I'm unable to locate it.) Otherwise, it seems like it would be breaking the Checkov's Gun concept:

    I read a book recently that tried to turn everything into a detailed, sensory experience. While it was nicely done at times, it also made things seem more important than they might be. It just came off as pretty writing whose primary purpose was to be pretty. It also slowed down the pacing pretty significantly.

    Is show vs tell, like most things, all about finding a balance between the two or is it really advised for us to always choose show over tell?
  2. PageTurner

    PageTurner Member

    There are so many writing "rules" out there that contradict with one another.

    I don't know the context of Chekov's first quote either, but I would think that he wouldn't have mentioned the "broken glass" unless it was specific to the work he was commenting on. I think it's just about making sure to pack as much into each sentence as you can without going overboard. It's a fine line to walk, that's for sure.

    I think that showing is great, but telling is okay if the showing is adding in unnecessary details that don't really add to the moment. I think in the case of settings, it's more important to stick to your character's voice and stay true to how they would observe their surroundings.

    I think showing is more important when it comes to emotions, personally.
  3. Reader

    Reader Vile Critic

    It is strange you should mention this, as I have just reviewed a book that practiced the opposite. When a new character was introduced, there were three pages of "If he was ever asked X, he would answer Y. When asked about his hat he would tell them Z..." before he ever actually spoke a line. I did not finish the book. In this situation, the author needs to have someone ask the question and receive the answer in the course of the story, otherwise it adds very little to the book.

    Another example was a book that mentioned that a certain main character would tell people more and more outlandish stories about why he wore a corsage, because people always asked. In the course of the entire book, no one did and he did not tell any. I suspect something like that is left from an earlier draft, especially as the corsage played no part in the plot. It is something that an editor should catch, if only to have someone comment on the lack of comments at the end.
  4. Gemini

    Gemini Member

    That sounds awful, @Reader. That's way too much exposition. 2-3 pages for every character introduction? If you want to "tell" that much, then it should be peppered throughout the book.

    I think the problem of telling instead of showing is the most evident in third-person omniscient. Although I've seen way too much exposition in first-person narratives as well.

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