The inspiration for the post came to me when reading a post on the excellent Reddest Pen, called Show AND Tell.
The author, Tom Mock, stood up in defense of telling; a form of expression that has become more uncool than a toothless vampire. With a limb. And a speech impediment.
It probably started with Anton Checkov’s famous quote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” A great idea that seems to have got out of hand!
As Tom points out, trying to show everything in your writing can be exhausting, and can lead to painfully obtuse prose. Maybe you don’t want every scene to be a riddle, and every character’s emotions to be a mystery. You’re not wrong in this. It is often the case that if you want your reader to know something, you have to tell them. Don’t avoid this because of that tired mantra, “show, don’t tell.”
Likewise, since Ernest Hemingway declared war on adverbs, passive voice and long words, more red ink has been spilled on manuscripts than blood sucked by vampires (the cool ones – those running around spouting poetry through perfect mouths with full sets of teeth). There is even a Hemingway app to check how well-written your manuscript is.
Interestingly enough, someone actually copied an excerpt by Hemingway and tried it out. And you know what? They scored an average score. The master himself, it turns out, used adverbs. And long words. And (gasp) passive voice!
What does that tell us? Simple: Showing instead of telling and avoiding adverbs, passive voice and long words are techniques, not writing dogma. They have become an adage because they so often apply to mismanaged writing. Writers can want their readers to know something so badly, they beat it into the ground. This forces sentiments and steals the experience of the story from the reader. You have to maintain a balance. The nature of that balance is up to you. That’s style.
Well said Nick.
I love “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Browne & King simply because it never says “never” about the use of adverbs, passive voice, and the dreaded “Show & Tell.” It deftly deals with the subject and clearly states that “telling” is an essential part of narrative style. They only advise avoiding overuse of either.
Thank you for that! It’s one of my favorite books on the subject 🙂
I.n.t.e.r.e.s.t.i.n.g. Something to think about. 🙂
You are welcome.
This is beautiful! I love it! ^.^ People have this annoying idea of what writing should and shouldn’t be, which comes to a point that it halts all creative ability, limiting the actual writing and the story. People need to be free to write what and how they want. This says just that!
Thank you – and welcome! I couldn’t agree more 🙂
Yes! Definitely, absolutely! Now that everyone takes these as concrete rules, all writers start sounding the same. 🙂
My feelings exactly! Thank you and welcome 🙂
Reblogged this on Rachael Ritchey and commented:
One great reminder about Show vs Tell. I like moderation.
Yes, yes, yes (which is what I tend to say when I love something someone has said). It seems we often mistake advice meant to temper our prose for the hard and fast truth from which we must never deviate. 🙂 A little tell never hurt nobody. A lot of tell is a good story for nap time. ;P
oops, I forgot to put ‘ain’t’ in that sentence. It ain’t never.
Lol – couldn’t have put it better myself 😀
I only had to edit my thoughts three times to get it concise. haha Thanks.
Ha ha, I know what you mean 😀
I loved this post! Thank you!
That’s so kind of you; thanks and welcome 🙂
Reblogged this on Fiora Books.
Very insightful thoughts!!!
Thank you, I’m glad you thought so 🙂
I’ve written a few paragraphs that I’ve adored with rich, textured feeling in the descriptions of setting and time. I’ve set the mood of the location, outlined the time of day from the fall of shadows, the season by the carpeting underfoot in the woodland and described the neutral, natural spectators of the wildlife in the bushes and branches… and then deleted the lot and started again 😉
This post resonates with me. Sometimes my descriptive work flows, sometimes it’s forced. When it’s the latter, it shows clearly.
I think we all instinctively know when it’s right for us to tell and when it’s right to show.
Engage but don’t waffle!
I love your take on this – and I would have loved to have read that!
Well said and great research/quotes, Nicholas! Thanks!
Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂
One of my favourite stories is Children of the New Forrest by Frederick Mayarat (I’ve probably spelled his name wrong). It’s a complete page turner and it’s written like a bloke telling you a fantastic story in a pub. It’s all tell, very little show. Yet it’s still one of the best books ever.
There’s nothing wrong with telling. It’s pace that’s the issue and pace is easier to achieve with showing. There is no right or wrong just good and bad… probably not even that… it’s the beauty of writing. 😉 You can do what you like with the raw material. That’s the joy of being a writer.
Great point, Nicholas, very similar to another post I read today on Lynette Noni’s blog (https://lynettenoni.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/the-he-said-she-said-of-dialogue-tags/). Know the rules, know why they exist, and know when to bend or break them. Don’t just follow rules blindly because some editor doesn’t like certain things being overused (use, but don’t overuse).
“Use, but don’t overuse” – a great quote indeed! That’s exactly what it’s all about. Thanks! 🙂
Great post. I agree with you.
Thanks, glad you found it interesting 🙂