The FIrst Rule of Storytelling

#1
Would it surprise you to know that almost no one on this site knows this rule?  The most important rule in storytelling and no one knows it.  I've literally had to go around from author to author and explain this to everyone. 

Rule number one of storytelling: Tell a story otherwise known as "show don't tell"

Here's a link to a professional authors explanation of it:
http://www.sfwriter.com/ow04.htm

Now some of you who decided to skip my link there or didn't understand the link are asking "isn't that what we've already been doing?" well no.  For large portions of the fictions on RRL you have been giving people school textbooks on imaginary worlds you came up with.  While it appears we have a large portion of people who enjoy school textbooks, they'd probably enjoy it more if it were in the form of a story.  

What is "Telling"?  Think of telling as when you summarize events or explain something using the narrator.  This by itself isn't bad, but a lot of authors only know how to "Tell" and it distances the reader from becoming emotionally involved in the story.  

Take Mushoku Tensei as an example, it did the bad kind of "telling" but people still loved it. Telling isn't something that's going to ruin your book by itself.  It creates distance between the reader and the events the author is trying to convey.  It will make it difficult to emotionally invest in a story.  Sure you'll be fascinated by a story, but how do you imagine an event that's been summarized?  

A school textbook simply tells you facts blandly one after another. 
Example
Quote:Azurius have two horns, skin harder than diamonds, and they breath crystal rock. 

When approaching them, I like to sneak up behind them and climb up onto its back from their tails. 

Note that the information was just told to you through the narrator.  There wasn't any dialog or descriptions. 

A storyteller will let you figure things out for yourself by experiencing them through the story. 

Quote:In front of me stood a lizard twenty feet high, sporting a vicious look.  The only thing going through my mind as I looked at it was, we made it angry.

"Jeremy, what the hell is that?" I screamed.

He gave me a sidelong glance before answering, "That my friend is an Azurius... Predators of the mountain they're called.  They chew rocks, harden them into some kind of glass, then spit them out at people."

I stared in horror as I was granted a demonstration.  Crystal rock spat at my comrades tore them apart like paper.  In a second, twenty of my friends were carved into bits. 

"How do we fight that thing?"

He snorted and gave a wry smile as he calmly spoke back, "skin harder than diamonds, and tears people apart with its breath...  Not much to do, there's a weak spot on the back of its neck, but you'd have to climb onto the bloody thing for that." 

Note how much larger the second example is?  This is why info dumps are such a half assed method of conveying information.  They're school textbooks on imaginary worlds, not fiction meant to entertain the reader. 

Unice below brought up an interesting point.  She says that my example is telling, but rather I think it's bordering on an information dump.  I'm not summarizing events, but I've given too much of one thing.  The best writing technique is to combine elements of everything into your paragraphs.  Try and reveal a little about your characters, advance your plotlines, describe the atmosphere, and throw in some dialogues all in the same paragraph.  This is how you turn bland paragraphs into interesting paragraphs.  

RE: The FIrst Rule of Storytelling

#2
While I think more showing is generally needed there are plenty of great writers have used telling. While showing is generally superior it's too simple to write it off to laziness. Showing everything can take a short 5000 word story and bloat it into 30000 but that doesn't always make it better. Dramatic scenes should use showing. Things that happen between scenes can often be sped through quickly with telling. Readers can get exhausted reading too many details.

Dramatic scenes should 'punch' the reader. If there's no relative lulls, even in thrillers, then a number of people will turn away.

RE: The FIrst Rule of Storytelling

#3
Yea there is a balance, that is true, but for the vast majority of writers here, the opposite is the problem. I'd rather have them go too far with showing first then correct them later with a smaller review.  

Telling should only be used to skip over boring details that don't affect character or plot development.  For instance, showing the state of a characters home can tell you a lot about a person.  If it's a pig sty, that by itself tells you something interesting.  Conversely you should skip over a person's trip to the bathroom. I often fall asleep during perfectly good series because they don't have this balanced.  

Forgotten Conqueror is actually one of the ones I'd say is also guilty of too much showing.  The chapters detailing Kaidus's time with his family are particularly boring and I wouldn't mind him skipping those or just simplifying them.  He doesn't put enough plot development into those chapters to justify having them.  

Basically, everything is a careful balance.  Description, plot development, character development, showing, and telling all have to be used evenly in a story for it to be good.  Doing too much of one can make the rest of the chapter drag.  Getting the balance just right is what I'm trying to do in my fiction, but it takes a lot of editing which i don't think many of our writers would be willing to do.  This is monthly release territory with frequent rewrites until you get the hang of it.

RE: The FIrst Rule of Storytelling

#4
I agree that showing is usually better than telling, but sometimes it just can't be done without a lot of awkwardness or wasted words.

In your two examples, I believe that they are both "telling" the reader the strength of the monster. Just because a character is saying it doesn't mean it's not an info dump. In order for it to really be a "showing", the characters would have to fight the monster without knowing anything about it, narrowly avoid getting killed by the breath attack, have their weapons bounce off its diamond-hard skin, and then find by guessing or luck the weakness in its neck. This allows the readers to discover things at the same time as the character.

Basically, "telling" is used to give the readers information that the characters already know. It's hard to understand what characters are doing if you don't understand the world they live in or the education they have. There are other ways to do this, like flashbacks to important events or dialogue that allows the reader to infer facts,, but "telling" is a legitimate storytelling tool which can be done incorrectly, just as "showing" can be executed poorly.

In the article that you linked, the author writes "Are there any times when telling is better than showing? Yes. First, some parts of a story are trivial — you may want your reader to know a fact, without dwelling on it." I would argue that the information in your example about the Azurius qualifies. Showing is especially important for things like character traits, not knowledge.

Generally, huge world histories are examples of poorly-executed "telling", or as I like to call them, "info dumps". It's great if an author knows their world to that level of detail, but it doesn't have to be spelled out to the reader. Bringing up information if and when it becomes relevant is how skilled authors generally operate, allowing the reader to discover the world gradually. As well, because the information IS relevant to the scene where it's introduced, it's probably followed by actions that "show" it as well.

RE: The FIrst Rule of Storytelling

#5
I've found something years ago that i kept in reserve in the case i would be writing some day:

It's by Allan Guthrie who's a "Scottish literary agent, author and editor of crime fiction".

I recorded/copied it in 2012 if i believe the last modification date on my .txt.

Quote:Allen Guthrie, an acquisition editor for Point Blank Press, wrote up a 'white paper' three years ago called 'Hunting Down the Pleonasms' that has become a cult classic. Guthrie gave Adventure Books of Seattle permission to reprint this document wherever we liked. It is a permanent download over at our main site, but I wanted to reproduce it here. It is very specific. Over at the AB site, it's been downloaded hundreds of times, and I think every writer should post this on the wall near their computer.

'Hunting Down the Pleonasms'
I can’t stress strongly enough that writing is subjective. We all strive for different goals. Consequently, we all need our own set of rules—and some of us don’t need rules at all! Personally, I like rules. If nothing else, it’s fun breaking them.

1: Avoid pleonasms. A pleonasm is a word or phrase which can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter. Many words are used pleonastically: ‘just’, ‘that’ and ‘actually’ are three frequently-seen culprits (I actually just know that he’s the killer can be trimmed to I know he’s the killer), and phrases like ‘more or less’ and ‘in any shape or form’ are redundant.

2: Use oblique dialogue. Try to generate conflict at all times in your writing. Attempt the following experiment at home or work: spend the day refusing to answer your family and colleagues’ questions directly. Did you generate conflict? I bet you did. Apply that principle to your writing and your characters will respond likewise.

3: Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

4: Cut adjectives where possible. See rule 3 (for ‘verb’ read ‘noun’).

5: Pairs of adjectives are exponentially worse than single adjectives. The ‘big, old’ man walked slowly towards the ‘tall, beautiful’ girl. When I read a sentence like that, I’m hoping he dies before he arrives at his destination. Mind you, that’s probably a cue for a ‘noisy, white’ ambulance to arrive. Wailingly, perhaps!

6: Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

7: If you find you’ve said the same thing more than once, choose the best and cut the rest. Frequently, I see the same idea presented several ways. It’s as if the writer is saying, “The first couple of images might not work, but the third one should do it. If not, maybe all three together will swing it.” The writer is repeating himself. Like this. This is a subtle form of pleonasm.

8: Show, don’t tell. Much vaunted advice, yet rarely heeded. An example: expressing emotion indirectly. Is your preferred reader intelligent? Yes? Then treat them accordingly. Tears were streaming down Lila’s face. She was very sad. Can the second sentence be inferred from the first? In context, let’s hope so. So cut it. If you want to engage your readers, don’t explain everything to them. Show them what’s happening and allow their intelligence to do the rest. And there’s a bonus to this approach. Because movies, of necessity, show rather than tell, this approach to your writing will help when it’s time to begin work on the screenplay adaptation of your novel!

9: Describe the environment in ways that are pertinent to the story. And try to make such descriptions active. Instead of describing a book lying on a table, have your psycho-killer protagonist pick it up, glance at it and move it to the arm of the sofa. He needs something to do to break up those long speeches, right?

10: Don’t be cute. In the above example, your protagonist should not be named Si Coe.

11: Avoid sounding ‘writerly’. Better to dirty up your prose. When you sound like a writer, your voice has crept in and authorial intrusion is always unwelcome. In the best writing, the author is invisible.

12: Fix your Point Of View (POV). Make it clear whose head you’re in as early as possible. And stay there for the duration of the scene. Unless you’re already a highly successful published novelist, in which case you can do what you like. The reality is that although most readers aren’t necessarily clued up on the finer points of POV, they know what’s confusing and what isn’t.

13: Don’t confuse the reader. If you write something you think might be unclear, it is. Big time. Change it or cut it.

14: Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.”

15: Whilst it’s good to assume your reader is intelligent, never assume they’re psychic.

16: Start scenes late and leave them early.

17: When writing a novel, start with your characters in action. Fill in any necessary backstory as you go along.

18: Give your characters clear goals. Always. Every scene. And provide obstacles to those goals. Always. Every scene. If the POV character in a scene does not have a goal, provide one or cut the scene. If there is no obstacle, add one or cut the scene.

19: Don’t allow characters who are sexually attracted to one another the opportunity to get into bed unless at least one of them has a jealous partner.

20: Torture your protagonist. It’s not enough for him to be stuck up a tree. You must throw rocks at him while he figures out how to get down.

21: Use all five senses in your descriptions. Smell and touch are too often neglected.

22: Vary your sentence lengths. I tend to write short, and it’s amazing what a difference combing a couple of sentences can make.

23: Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.

24: Cut out filtering devices, wherever possible. ‘He felt’, ‘he thought’, ‘he observed’ are all filters. They distance the reader from the character.

25: Avoid unnecessary repetition of tense. For example: I’d gone to the hospital. They’d kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I’d seen a doctor. Usually, the first sentence is sufficient to establish tense. I’d gone to the hospital. They kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I saw a doctor.

26: When you finish your book, pinpoint the weakest scene and cut it. If necessary, replace it with a sentence or paragraph.

27: Don’t plant information. How is Donald, your son? I’m quite sure Donald’s father doesn’t need reminding who Donald is. Their relationship is mentioned purely to provide the reader with information.

28: If an opinion expressed through dialogue makes your POV character look like a jerk, allow him to think it rather than say it. He’ll express the same opinion, but seem like a lot less of a jerk.

29: Characters who smile and grin a lot come across as deranged fools. Sighing and shrugging are also actions to avoid. Eliminating smiles, sighs and shrugs is almost always an improvement. Smiling sadly is a capital offence.

30: Pronouns are big trouble for such little words. The most useful piece of information I ever encountered on the little blighters was this: pronouns refer to the nearest matching noun backwards. For example: John took the knife out of its sheath and stabbed Paul with it. Well, that’s good news for Paul. If you travel backwards from ‘it’, you’ll see that John has stabbed Paul with the sheath! Observing this rule leads to much clearer writing.

31: Spot the moment of maximum tension and hold it for as long as possible. Or as John D. MacDonald put it: “Freeze the action and shoot him later.”

32: If something works, forget about the rule that says it shouldn’t.

RE: The FIrst Rule of Storytelling

#9
I believe that it mean to write without being a try hard or to not trying to find complicated word or sentence when you can put it simple.

--

I wish author from japanese novel would follow those guide, there's way too much people using of digression, useless chit-chat or reference to obscure sub-culture.

I also wish they wouldn't be all fucking lolicon.

RE: The FIrst Rule of Storytelling

#10
11 is talking about your diction, wording and sentence structure. The narration of your story sets a "tone" that should match the tone of the story. Writers can sometimes go overly formal or overly advanced in a way that jars you out of the story.

That isn't to say you cannot used advanced vocabulary in your writing, but things like excessive numbers of semicolons, and multiple 4+ syllable words per sentence isn't really necessary or helpful.

(I really shouldn't be writing this because I do this all the time. But my entire story is a huge nerd joke, so it's fine.)

RE: The FIrst Rule of Storytelling

#12
5/15/2015 3:37:35 PMunice5656 Wrote: [ -> ]I agree that showing is usually better than telling, but sometimes it just can't be done without a lot of awkwardness or wasted words.

In your two examples, I believe that they are both "telling" the reader the strength of the monster. Just because a character is saying it doesn't mean it's not an info dump. In order for it to really be a "showing", the characters would have to fight the monster without knowing anything about it, narrowly avoid getting killed by the breath attack, have their weapons bounce off its diamond-hard skin, and then find by guessing or luck the weakness in its neck. This allows the readers to discover things at the same time as the character.

Basically, "telling" is used to give the readers information that the characters already know. It's hard to understand what characters are doing if you don't understand the world they live in or the education they have. There are other ways to do this, like flashbacks to important events or dialogue that allows the reader to infer facts,, but "telling" is a legitimate storytelling tool which can be done incorrectly, just as "showing" can be executed poorly.

In the article that you linked, the author writes "Are there any times when telling is better than showing? Yes. First, some parts of a story are trivial — you may want your reader to know a fact, without dwelling on it." I would argue that the information in your example about the Azurius qualifies. Showing is especially important for things like character traits, not knowledge.

Generally, huge world histories are examples of poorly-executed "telling", or as I like to call them, "info dumps". It's great if an author knows their world to that level of detail, but it doesn't have to be spelled out to the reader. Bringing up information if and when it becomes relevant is how skilled authors generally operate, allowing the reader to discover the world gradually. As well, because the information IS relevant to the scene where it's introduced, it's probably followed by actions that "show" it as well.

I've thought a lot about what you're saying here, but I believe you're wrong about the second example being an example of telling.  Telling is ... Imagine that a narrator started speaking about what was going on in a movie without any picture or actors.  That is telling.  Showing is the actors and backgrounds being displayed in the movie.  So when you convert that to a literarry example, showing can include conversations, descriptive imagery, etc.  Just having the info told to you through character dialog is enough to count as showing because you can imagine the characters interesting voices at the same time.  

Of course, there's crappy dialog too, but the difference is that "showing" stimulates your imagination.  In my example I imagined the person explaining the details of the creature as having a slightly shaky voice.  His skin pale white while his demeanor seemed unusually calm.  Even though he was speaking clearly, you can tell he's terrified himself as his gaze is glued to the image of the creature tearing apart his friends.  

Of course I didn't write out a lot of these details, but I rushed the example a little and the reader will fill in the gaps by themselves to a point.  

RE: The FIrst Rule of Storytelling

#13
6/9/2015 10:39:10 AMDarkD Wrote: [ -> ]I've thought a lot about what you're saying here, but I believe you're wrong about the second example being an example of telling.  Telling is ... Imagine that a narrator started speaking about what was going on in a movie without any picture or actors.  That is telling.  Showing is the actors and backgrounds being displayed in the movie.  So when you convert that to a literarry example, showing can include conversations, descriptive imagery, etc.  Just having the info told to you through character dialog is enough to count as showing because you can imagine the characters interesting voices at the same time.  

Of course, there's crappy dialog too, but the difference is that "showing" stimulates your imagination.  In my example I imagined the person explaining the details of the creature as having a slightly shaky voice.  His skin pale white while his demeanor seemed unusually calm.  Even though he was speaking clearly, you can tell he's terrified himself as his gaze is glued to the image of the creature tearing apart his friends.  

Of course I didn't write out a lot of these details, but I rushed the example a little and the reader will fill in the gaps by themselves to a point.

In my opinion, it's "dressed up", but it's still telling.

You used the word "wryly" to describe the way the person explaining spoke, so I didn't get the impression of fear at all, rather a calm, "seen-it-all" fatalism.
(It's very common for writers to expect the reader to understand implied information, but for the readers to completely miss the message.)

Really, in both examples, calling them "info dumps" is a bit extreme. You only have one sentence of "telling" at a time, so in my opinion, neither of the examples is bad writing.

The first example conveys a completely different image of the MC than the second. In the first, he's experienced and has fought the Azurius before. In the second, he's a terrified newbie. Both of them are acceptable, depending on what effect you're going for.

I think the PoV matters a lot, too. Since you're writing in 1st person, even the narrative sentences are "said" in the MC's inner voice. It's really more in 3rd person that the whole showing-vs-telling thing matters.

Anyways, I think this is kind of like the "no adjectives/adverbs" rule. Keep it in mind to help make your writing more vibrant, but it's not an absolute, and there are occasions where it's not only perfectly acceptable, but better than the alternative.