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Show don't tell?

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message 1: by Frog (new) - added it

Frog To sum up most books about how to write:
"Don't use adverbs"
"Don't rely on adjectives"
"Use proof instead"

Then I read something like this, and it's 1000 times better than anything written by most people who follow that advice.

The question is... Is that kind of advice worth anything at all? Or should we just be learning how to "tell" in more skillful ways like Tolstoy?
Thoughts??


message 2: by Steven (last edited Jun 16, 2016 01:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Steven Smith I think show don't tell is a relatively modern precept for writing and lots of the great Victorian authors would tell us what this and that character were feeling etc. If a new writer today was to produce something like Hardy or Trollope they probably wouldn't get published but is that a good thing? Maybe the 19th century style will come back into vogue one day and authors will be telling us things left right and centre again!


London Rae It's interesting. I've found myself trapped by proper ways of doing things and usually when I follow that my voice gets drowned out. My best work has always been when I put the words on the paper like I see the scene in my head. If I get too wrapped up in minutiae, work suffers


message 4: by The (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual This is going to sound pretentious, but generally speaking great books break the rules rather than conforming to them, in the same way that only mediocre books fit neatly into a genre.
I'm wondering, actually, if the whole "show don't tell" thing comes from our familiarity with film and television, rather than how satisfactorily it works on paper.


message 5: by Frog (last edited Jun 23, 2016 09:25AM) (new) - added it

Frog I think that's exactly where it came from, along with the ideas of "ticking clock" and cliffhangers. (In the contrived sense they're taught in Creative Writing courses).

Admittedly we should be aware of the difference between telling and showing, if not told telling is wrong.


message 6: by The (last edited Jun 23, 2016 09:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual Well, yes. Can you imagine a novel that consisted almost entirely of exposition?
Other than the great Tristram Shandy, obviously....
(I'm going to have to go and Google the "ticking clock" now. Haven't encountered that one).


message 7: by Frog (new) - added it

Frog I'm sure it's better than the modern books that are all action like Percy Jackson.


Jeffery Lee Radatz I agree with The saying the great books that stand out DO break all the "so-called" rules of writing. You are taught when learning to write that you can't do this or can't do that. The great books and authors break those rules!


message 9: by Frog (new) - added it

Frog Ticking clock is basically suspense.
You always have to have a sense of time running out; that's the basic idea.


message 10: by The (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual Ah. Got you. Of course the idea of time running out pre-dates television by quite some way. Dracula springs to mind.
I suppose the thing is that, although there aren't hard-and-fast rules of writing, it's reasonably important to understand the conventions, if only so you can break them deliberately.


message 11: by Frog (last edited Jun 23, 2016 09:48AM) (new) - added it

Frog Yes, but I think there's noticeably more emphasis on suspense and action in modern books, and certain story terms authors use come directly from the film industry. I do believe there's a degree of good in this, but basic priorities tend to get a little mixed up. Suspense is cheap after all; I like what cs lewis says about it being more about the personality of the story.

Agreed about understanding conventions. Also that the best books break the rules. Which brings us to the classic saying "you have to know the rules before you can break them."


message 12: by The (last edited Jun 23, 2016 10:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual I did post a chunk of stuff here, but it got a bit incoherent, so I'll try again.
I think we might be falling victim to the availability bias in that lazy writers have always picked up bad habits from one another - you have only to look at The Lord of the Rings spawning wave after wave of Very Big Fantasy Books (sorry, but the Lord of the Rings is brilliant to read once). Whether we can really bemoan a trend is another question, after all, Edgar Allan Poe thought we were heading for a world of short-stories and we certainly haven't arrived there.


message 13: by The (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual Jeffery wrote: "I agree with The saying the great books that stand out DO break all the "so-called" rules of writing. You are taught when learning to write that you can't do this or can't do that. The great books ..."

Or, just playing Devil's advocate, establish new ones.


message 14: by Frog (new) - added it

Frog On that note, I think there's a lot to learn from television. And by television, I mean cartoons. As an animator I hear about storytelling from both sides, and I love what they say in art about embellishing reality vs. merely capturing it. In animation it's about caricature. Now that's something I wish was directly discussed about storytelling more often; how to exaggerate without being too over the top, and doing it in the right places.


message 15: by The (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual Fish wrote: "On that note, I think there's a lot to learn from television. And by television, I mean cartoons. As an animator I hear about storytelling from both sides, and I love what they say in art about emb..."

Oh, but that's easy! Read the Gormenghast Trilogy!


message 16: by Frog (new) - added it

Frog Okay, thanks for the suggestion!


message 17: by The (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual Fish wrote: "Okay, thanks for the suggestion!"

Actually...
Um...
I may have got a bit carried away here...
Let me just backtrack a bit. The Gormenghast Trilogy is brilliantly, wonderfully, gorgeously over-the-top. Still superb writing, though.


message 18: by Frog (new) - added it

Frog Ha, it's fine, I like knowing about everything. I'll have to look that one up.


message 19: by The (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual Fish wrote: "Ha, it's fine, I like knowing about everything. I'll have to look that one up."

You like knowing about EVERYTHING? You know about EVERYTHING?!!!

A God! A genius! A polymath beyond compare! I bow down in thy presence, oh great one! I worship thy capacious memory!

(too much sarcasm? Blame my British genes.)

Incidentally, if you do like Peake's bizarre characters you might try Dostoevsky or Kafka.

To return to the availability bias (and please, please tell me to shut up if I'm boring you), it may be that the perceived "emphasis on suspense and action in modern books" is more a property of the kind of books you're reading, and that if you go for something with smaller print and longer words (odd that the two go together), you might find that emphasis disappears. Then, too, it seems like books written over fifty years ago are of better quality, but the bad books from back then are no longer in print - survival of the fittest and all that.


message 20: by Frog (last edited Jun 25, 2016 08:53AM) (new) - added it

Frog I am pretty ingenius, thank you for noticing.

And yeah, I'm sure you're right about those types of books. It all has to do with my reading children's fantasy more than anything really. This is exactly why I'm deliberately reading the longest books I can find at the moment. (Like Tolstoy, in fact). And I really do mean it that I'm up for anything at this point. haha


message 21: by The (last edited Jun 25, 2016 10:40AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual Well, if it's a challenge you're after...
(pauses for evil laughter)
you might try the aforementioned Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. It's a novel (sort of) about writing an autobiography, and approaches many of the problems of writing. It's also incredibly funny and really, really filthy (if you chose to read it that way, and trust me, you will in places). It's pretty much the antithesis of children's fantasy. Be warned, though, I only recommend it to my best friends, and my worst enemies.

It has occurred to me, actually, that "Show, don't tell" is the worst possible advice you can give to a writer. If you're using text (which is, let's face it, just a way of putting speech down on paper) then how can you do anything other than tell?


message 22: by The (last edited Jun 26, 2016 05:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

The Usual I encountered a good quote a while back by Edgar Wallace (who wrote, among other things, King Kong). He's supposed to have said something like:
"I don't write [great books], I write best-sellers."
I'm not sure if agreeing with this makes me a literary snob or not, but I thought it might amuse you.


message 23: by Irina (last edited Jun 29, 2016 09:37AM) (new) - added it

Irina Fish wrote: "To sum up most books about how to write:
"Don't use adverbs"
"Don't rely on adjectives"
"Use proof instead"

Then I read something like this, and it's 1000 times better than anything written by mos..."


Actually, Tolstoy didn't "tell" much, more often "showing" instead. Take this famous quote: "He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking." You immediately know what is happening and how strong it is.


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