Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

Don't worry, my definition is slightly different too. I have a bit of what you use, the rest is about how to define a character. Instead of telling the readers a certain character is a 'spoiled, arrogant, rich' girl, describe her acting like one. The idea is to let the readers draw their own conclusion with regards to personalities and situations. Probably a better known example is how in many Japanese novels the MC is called 'kind' without ever doing anything 'kind'. Being stepped on by people and constantly giving in to pressure isn't kind, it's weak. 

Don't tell me what I'm supposed to think of your character, let me form my own opinion. If my interpretation is not what you intended it to be, it would only have been worse if you'd told me in advance what you were trying to portray

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

Let me give you another example of bad telling.  

Bad Telling Example: "DarkD is the greatest commenter on the forums.  This thread's author is floored by the mind numbingly good advice he gives.  His examples are extremely coherant and logical."

That is what bad telling looks like in it's rawest form.  This is just one example of "telling" that ruins stories.  Even this extreme example pops up in stories.  A showing example would be this post as a whole.  I am showing you why telling is bad.  

There are absolutely people who can make exposition work, "Experimental Log of the Crazy Lich" being one such example.  I personally think that particular story makes up for the exposition by being REALLY good at everything else.  

Another reason telling can be bad is because it makes a story into a school textbook rather than a fiction designed to entertain you.  It takes out the imagination from the story and asks you to memorize obscure facts and use them in specific manners.  Showing kinda just guides the reader towards the conclusion it wants the reader to come to.  Telling is forced.

Worst of all, those long exposition pages are almost completely unnecessary.  I skip them all the time and I enjoy the story more for it.  

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

"Show, don't tell" is one of those writing rules that has been difficult for me to wrap my head around. I'm a very literal person, so it's very easy for me to default to just tell everything. But I also learn by example, so reading traditionally published books has been helping me learn over time.

My sister found a post on Tumblr a while back that has also been very helpful.

"Express, don't state"

I found the change in terminology alone to be eye-opening in terms of understanding this concept. To me, "show, don't tell" is not specific enough. There's too much uncertainty. I need very specific words, or at least more specific than that, in order to understand things proper.

The post goes into more detail to help explain and clarify it. Link here if you're interested:

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

My personal rule of thumb is that the text should give at least the information the POV character has available and is paying attention to, which means the point in the showing/telling axis should vary according to how the POV character is perceiving the situation.  This of course implies telling, versus showing, has some considerable power with an unreliable narrator.

As advice, it is usually pretty good, it just isn't particularly instructive as to what you're doing wrong.  Imagine a movie where nobody used body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice - everybody had flat affect through the entire movie - and whenever they were supposed to act sad, instead a voice-over narration instead said "John felt sad".  When somebody is saying "show, don't tell", they're telling you that you're doing the literary equivalent of that.  And to see the power that has with an unreliable narrator, imagine that same movie, except the voice-over might be lying to you at any given time.

Adjusting what is shown and what is told is a matter of pacing; in slow scenes where characters have time to take in details, you should move more towards showing, which is to say, explaining what details give characters the specific impressions they have.  In fast scenes where they only have time to take in impressions, move more towards telling.  The correct position isn't purely on showing, or purely on telling, it is the position which is appropriate to the context.

The pure form of telling isn't a book at all, it's a sentence.  "The good hero defeated the evil wizard."  Every detail is some level of showing.  And the pure form of showing ruins pacing - telling the reader that a character rolled their eyes is a significant improvement on describing the motion of the eyes in detail, spending a paragraph to describe the fact that the eyes don't roll in exact synchrony - unless of course the character is for some reason observing the eye roll in slow motion, in which case it might be kind of interesting, at least the first time you do it.

So view it as a spectrum, which you fluctuate between according to the needs of pacing, and the story.

And when considered as advice, somebody is telling you that you're not giving enough detail in the slow portions of the story for their tastes; a major way people evaluate the maturity of a story (in terms of who it is aimed at) is the level of detail (how far you are in showing, rather than telling), particularly in comparison to the amount of conversation; heavy on conversation, light on detail is usually evaluated as a book aimed at children, and heavy on detail, light on conversation, is usually evaluated as a book aimed at adults.  Mind, this isn't necessary, but it is how books, particularly in English, tend to be written, so people have developed expectations.  Neither is bad, necessarily, but people are often very put off if you mix adult themes with writing that feels like it is aimed at children, which comes across to the reader as juvenile and immature.

One thing to be aware of, if you choose to go light on detail, is that every detail you do give becomes plot-worthy; if the only information you give about a room is there is a shovel leaning against the entrance, you've told the reader that that shovel is important.

If you have trouble showing, try practicing writing a short story in which two characters, living in boxes separated by a glass wall that prevents all sound from passing through, attempt to communicate.  Consider what they need to do to communicate various emotional states - how would they convey to one another that they are sad today.  Now do it again, differently - whatever mechanisms they used to convey something, they can't use again.  Do it again.  Now try to convey more complex emotional states - how would they convey they are sad, but feeling stoic about it, that this is a sadness that they would prefer to feel because it is a sadness worth feeling?

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

Just adding my two cents here. "Show, don't tell" is probably the first writing advice an aspiring writer gets. There's just so many posts and videos of that online. There are also many examples of show don't tell all over the internet. So it gives the impression that we should "show, don't tell" always. And to me that is simply not the case. Way back when RR was still RRL and people gave really scathing reviews to each other there was a review criticizing a scene of an author for disobeying "show,don't tell". It was an old story and I don't think it's still here.

Anyway, the scene was that the MC discovered that the magical book he needed was in this ancient magical library. So the author wrote the MC entered this old library (about 2 lines of description), got the book (maybe 3 lines of description) then got out. The reviewer heavily criticized the author for not using "show, don't tell" then gave an example with like three paragraphs of beautifully written sentences about how the ancient and magical the library was. 

By then I realized that the most important aspect of "show, don't tell" is often neglected  in these "top ten writing advice new writers should know". And that is when to not to "show, don't tell" and/or when to minimize showing. To me there was no point to three long paragraphs of describing that library then some more paragraphs about the book because the MC was just getting the magical book then going out. It wasn't some entire quest inside the library. He just checked out a book.  Showing also racks up the word count alot, what could have been said in a single line can extend to a dozen lines. 

Knowing when to "show, don't tell" and when to just use one line to finish the scene is a skill an aspiring writer should know imo. Most lessons about "show, don't tell" show a "telling" line then show it expanded into several lines of "showing". But there's no example of when to just use your one line of good telling and relax on the showing. Just like that library example I gave, maybe it's really just enough to have a couple of lines that he's going into an old library to check out a book. 

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

Makata Wrote: Honestly when I hear the quote 'show don't tell' I think of the fact that we, as readers, mostly look in perspective of an individual or a certain group of people, and that the premise of the quote is that the author should reveal information that those characters know, or ones that they discover in the story with us, you don't just explain something that wasn't mentioned in the story randomly, but it should be with context, I do think now that I'm kind of wrong about what the quote means, but I don't think that what I just explained shouldn't be followed in any story.

The philosophy of letting readers discover things on their own to get them more immersed into the story can also be seen wonderfully in Mother of Learning: Throughout the story there are a lot of passages that from a superficial view could look like data dumps. But by the way the narrator is used in there, those are things the character Zorian -- whose perspective the narrator is using -- is thinking (or could be thinking) about at that time. So they are properly in context by coming from a character and fit his perspective. The brilliant thing about them, is that they are most of the time only a partial view. They only reveal what Zorian knows about at that time and what he considers relevant. They don't contain anything out-of-character, while the reader notices those many puzzle pieces matching and giving a bigger picture or how things are related, even Zorian does not even know about at that time of the story.

I think that example very much shows how big the power of "Show don't tell" is as well as how useless just the motto alone is, if it is understood too verbatim.

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

There is a tendency to summarize actions and events worthy of being acted out when writing.  Usually this is done in narrative voice,  like a play by play radio broadcast of a baseball game.  Sometimes narrative summary can be used to bridge scenes in a book, but when narrative largely replaces acting out the ideas, and scenes themselves in a work, the work becomes a boring exposition of a plot that a better author might use to write an exciting story  from.  It amounts to talking about what goes on in a story instead of presenting the activities , motions, actions, smells, inner fears, and reactions between the works players.  There is a difference between demonstrating an event and describing an event, even though both are "writing" about them.  This is something learned by practice, and learning the difference is a tool that puts control of your writing into your hands, and less into the hands of reviews and critique.  There are any number of ways to write descriptions, and simply, some are better for longer works than others.

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

I've thought it over more and I think it's more "show with purpose and tell the boring".  This is where writing starts becoming a big chore because there are concrete rules to it, they're just really tedious to follow.  So you CAN make a scene where you describe everything and show the miniscule twitches on a characters face, but is there a point?  You can show every scene and tell the entire history of humanity, but does it contribute to the story?  

When you write something, you should have a purpose in mind.  You want the reader to follow your logic and you want them to feel the mood in the story. That is impossible to accomplish with "telling".  You wanna know why characters are always flat on RR?  It's because all our authors "tell" the character interactions so they come off as flat.  

However, you also wanna skip things that just aren't relevant to the story.  You do this by "telling" them.  ie: "bob visited the library" rather than a detailed description of bob's uneventful journey to the library.

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

Show don't tell is a standard advise to new writers, because it's frequently tempting to just summarize events that could and should be shown to the reader.

That said Internet fiction tends to overdo it. I think most people here know the Harry Potter fanfics that have hit a million words before finishing the first year of Hogwards. Or the original fiction where authors drown their readers in slice of life stuff that could just be summarized to advance the plot. You don't need to describe every dinner your character has, every conversation they're having in a location.

The true art is the important stuff for building the plot and the characterisiations. Everything else can be summarized to some degree. I think the classic example for this would actually be Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Rowling manages to introduce the setting, equip Harry, teach him basic magic, have him make friends and rivals, have petty childish conflicts as well as the final confrontation within only 60k words.

Still you need to show. Otherwise your story has no meat.

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.


Quote:The Difference Between Showing vs. Telling
When you tell rather than show, you simply inform your reader of information rather than allowing him to deduce anything.
You’re supplying information by simply stating it. You might report that a character is “tall,” or “angry,” or “cold,” or “tired.”
That’s telling.

Showing would paint a picture the reader could see in her mind’s eye.
If your character is tall, your reader can deduce that because you mention others looking up when they talk with him. Or he has to duck to get through a door. Or when posing for a photo, he has to bend his knees to keep his head in proximity of others.
Rather than telling that your character is angry, show it by describing his face flushing, his throat tightening, his voice rising, his slamming a fist on the table. When you show, you don’t have to tell.

Cold? Don’t tell me; show me. Your character pulls her collar up, tightens her scarf, shoves her hands deep into her pockets, turns her face away from the biting wind.
Tired? He can yawn, groan, stretch. His eyes can look puffy. His shoulders could slump. Another character might say, “Didn’t you sleep last night? You look shot.”
When you show rather than tell, you make the reader part of the experience. Rather than having everything simply imparted to him, he sees it in his mind and comes to the conclusions you want.
What could be better than engaging your reader—giving him an active role in the storytelling—or should I say the story-showing?

Telling: When they embraced she could tell he had been smoking and was scared.
Showing: When she wrapped her arms around him, the sweet staleness of tobacco enveloped her, and he was shivering.
Telling: The temperature fell and the ice reflected the sun.
Showing: Bill’s nose burned in the frigid air, and he squinted against the sun
reflecting off the street.
Telling: Suzie was blind.
Showing: Suzie felt for the bench with a white cane.
Telling: It was late fall.
Showing: Leaves crunched beneath his feet.
Telling: She was a plumber and asked where the bathroom was.
Showing: She wore coveralls carried a plunger and metal toolbox, and wrenches of various sizes hung from a leather belt around her waist. “Point me to the head,” she said.
Telling: I had a great conversation with Tim over dinner and loved hearing his stories.
Showing: I barely touched my food, riveted by Tim. “Let me tell you another story,” he said.

Is Telling Ever Acceptable?

Yes, it’s a mistake to take show, don’t tell as inviolable. While summary narrative is largely frowned upon, sometimes it’s a prudent choice. If there’s no value to the plot/tension/conflict/character arc by showing some mundane but necessary information, telling is preferable.
For instance, say you have to get your character to an important meeting and back, before the real action happens. Maybe he has to get clearance from his superiors before he can lead a secret raid.
Rather than investing several pages showing every aspect of the trip from packing, dressing, getting a cab to the airport, going through security, boarding the plane, arriving at his destination—you quickly tell that this way:
Three days later, after a trip to Washington to get the operation sanctioned by his superiors, Casey packed his weapons and camo clothes and set out to recruit his crew.
Then you immediately return to showing mode, describing his visits to trusted compatriots and getting them on board.

I found this definition of show vs tell. It seems on point.

If the goal is to get a 'tell' only author to use more 'show' style writing then "show dont tell" does the job imo. It can cause an issue rarely with overly wordy serials like Beyogi said but it's not something I really see people complain about to be honest, I think that may be because while they are very long they also contain a lot of content and aren't just fluffy imagery descriptions.

John looked at Doe with sympathy when he saw the latter breakdown. He knew how Doe felt due to their tragic history.
John looked at Doe with sympathy. As Doe cried, John rested his hand on his shoulder and consoled him until he calmed down. 

I'm not sure this is an example of show don't tell op. With all the examples of show don't tell in the previous quote you can still infer the exact same information between the two ways of writing whereas with this I don't believe you can infer that they had a tragic history in the show version.

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.


Apocryphal Wrote: Foreshadowing in writing is hard to do, because most readers don’t actually pay attention to it. So, even if you did perfectly “show” stuff in the background, odds are nobody caught it. You’re better off just telling it preemptively at a good point to avoid the impending “BUT WHAT? YOU DIDNT SET UP FOR THIS!”

“I did”

“No you didn’t. There wasn’t any indication!”

“.... aight”

So what if you didn't set it up? There's not supposed to be shock or surprise anymore?

Where's the realism, or the artistry, in that? Are all the stories now supposed to be told so that the reader has master level clairvoyance or omniscience? Do all the readers now need top be forewarned, coddled and hand held through every plot change or character loss?

Do all authors/writers now have to put a spoilers bars at the top of every chapter so people can know the ending before they even read it?

This isn't directed at you Apo, it's directed at the people who would actually write that as a comment or review.

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

Scenes take up a lot of the reader's time, so your choice of what to show in a complete scene or tell in a simpler way can either add clarity to the story or kill it. 
New writers often make the mistake of giving complete scenes at insignificant moments, while at the same time telling in a few sentences or paragraphs elements crucial to their narrative or the coherence of their construction of the world.

The importance of history should always be the deciding factor. If it is part of the main conflict of your story, an important moment for your character arc or a founding element for the construction of your building or your world tradition, then clearly dedicate the number of words needed to say it and show it at the same time. time.

The best bet is to weave both intelligently. Do what's best for your story (and therefore your readers), that's what should help you decide what the problem is in the end.

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

I mean I would think looking on my own story that there is a large combination of both. There are some things that I just have to say. There are times when I know "If I dont say this, nobody will understand.", so there is a lot of telling. 

"She could never forgive that man. He played with the emotions of people, wielding them like puppets and casting them aside when he finished using them."

This is an example of telling, no? 

What would be showing in this case?

"Her eyes twitched, and the vessels within them bulged with redness. Sweat beaded down her face and her breathing became ragged. A bloodied carcass flashed across her eyes, and her vision became cloudy and distorted. 

Those eyes. 

Those sinister, mocking eyes sliced into her very essence, tearing away at everything she was. 

Slamming her fist into the wall, the chunks of wood and paint pierced her hand as she panted irregularly. 

"I'll.... never forgive him.... I'll never forgive that man.... that demon....."

Something like this? I don't know. You tell me. As far as I see, I just told you a bunch more stuff. The only thing that changed was the amount of stuff I told. 

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.


Dubs Wrote: I mean I would think looking on my own story that there is a large combination of both. There are some things that I just have to say. There are times when I know "If I dont say this, nobody will understand.", so there is a lot of telling. 

"She could never forgive that man. He played with the emotions of people, wielding them like puppets and casting them aside when he finished using them."

This is an example of telling, no?

IMO telling would be more like "she told her friend she could never forgive him, because he played with the emotions of people and used them like puppets and cast them aside when he was done".

'Show, don't tell' isn't in absolutes, there are many examples that fall between the two, being part show and part tell. The trick is to find a balance between the two, conveying the importance of the moment without going through needlessly detailed events. Extreme 'showing' would be to give examples of how the man manipulates people, but we don't need to see that here.

Re: “Show, don’t tell” is stupid advice.

I thought of a certain example to describe this. 

So imagine you have a group of characters who are headed to a new land, with almost no knowledge of the land and people. 

I have had a number of times where this scenario has popped up within my own writing. 

Now, I have noticed that there are two ways in which I will usually approach this. 

Method 1: Write a "Tell" scene where it describes the position, culture, mindset, and status of the people. I explain here the reason for the way things are, and their mindset. Perhaps I even write a few scenes with some characters in this culture to best show this mindset off. 

Ah, side note- I understand that the term 'show don't tell' is very ambiguous, so I have come up with my own personal definition which I will use. 

Showing and not telling is defined by me as portraying something through a scene, as opposed to just coming out and straight up informing people. 

Now, after doing my little 'telling' scene, I will then thrust my own main characters into this built culture and landscape, and they will interact with the people and so on and so forth. 

Method 2: I will not say anything at first about the new culture, and rather just throw my characters in there with little information on who they are or their cultures and practices. They will see this for themselves as they walk through these cities and places. 

However, there is one particular thing I must note with this method. 

When I use this method, there will always be a scene after the fact where I directly tell everyone. 

"Hey, in case you didn't infer what's going on here, this is what was actually happening."

I will almost always use one of these 2 methods. I think the 2nd one is better, however I will say there have been cases where I used the first one where it worked out very well, or at least from my own perspective. 

Now what is the similarity?

They both have points of "Tell scenes" where I do nothing but information dump. 

A lot of people tend to hate information dumps, but I always end up looking at my writing and feeling that if I don't explain this, that nobody will ever get it. For example, say I want to explain someone's past without spending chapters writing up their backstory and creating characters and scenes to that end. I'mma just say. "This person did this when they were younger, and this happened."

And when it comes to the history of entire cities and countries, there's no way to "Show" this unless we are gonna write an entire textbook. 

So I tell. Sure, I could keep it hidden and have everyone infer, but what is a story without lore? I can't sit right if I know my readers might not understand something. I hate when authors hide something and make it super vague, and then everyone gets into debate over it. I have a message to send, not a debate to create. 

At any rate, the point here is that I don't think not telling is ever appropriate. Many have told me "Don't underestimate your viewers like that", but when I'm literally purposely hiding things from them it's not acceptable. 

Therefore, at some point in all my stories, I usually do have at least one point where I go ahead and just spill the beans to everyone. 

"Hey. You just witnessed this character do this that and the other. Here's why."