Weekly Writer Wisdom: March 28, 2017

(Look for this week’s #WeeklyWriterWisdom questions after the jump.)

This Week’s Questions: What are your thoughts on the “writing rule” known as “show, don’t tell”? Do you swear by it with your own work? Or do you try to balance the two? When do you think it’s important to show, and to tell?

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15 thoughts on “Weekly Writer Wisdom: March 28, 2017

  1. Good question! I balance the two, showing what I feel I should show, telling what I feel I should tell. Like most writing things, it’s more intuition than science. Some exposition is vital and need not be disguised as something else or drip fed.

    Le Guin’s comment is very interesting. I do try to make everything serve more than one purpose, but sometimes I simply go back and put in descriptions retrospectively after I’ve discovered something new about my ‘world’ through telling the story and need to foreshadow it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Same here. I try to balance “showing” and “telling” in my stories, too. The trick with telling is that you never want to overdo it. It’s good for relating necessary backstory, recapping information, or summarizing a scene that doesn’t need to be written out in full. But spending several paragraphs doing so doesn’t always help the story. Is that your general line of thought with it, too?

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  2. This is a topic that comes up frequently for writers. It’s such an absolute statement, but I think it was a guideline created for novice writers. It is really good advice, and it becomes a balance as a writer becomes more skilled at the craft. There are lots of rules like this, and until you reach the point where you have built a name for yourself in the world of authors, most of the rules will help you get there. Otherwise, I think everyone thinks they can break rules because their writing is the exception, but they don’t yet have the experience to break the rules in an effective, meaningful, and skillful way and by doing so they come off as an amateur.
    When you have distance from your writing and you go through to edit it, and you realize that you’re telling instead of showing, that’s probably a good indicator that you need to change that section. I think that a lot of these rules that come across as absolute do so because more times than not, the rule is going to lead to stronger writing. And the attempt is to help people toward their goal of becoming a published author. Experimenting with your writing can lead to some fantastic writing, and it can also help open your eyes to why something is not effective.
    There are a lot of readers out there who don’t know all the rules of writing, so they aren’t going to scrutinize your work to see if you’re showing instead of telling; however, they will be pulled out of a story for the same reason a writer who knows these rules would be, they just might not understand why the story stopped working for them.
    One of the most important times to show instead of tell, off the top of my head, is when dealing with emotions. I prefer to see how a character feels, I like to see the events leading up to that emotion too. I don’t like being told how the character feels very often, because either it is evident, or I’m skeptical of why they feel that way because the story hasn’t led me to that same place. On the other hand, I don’t like to see a character crying unless I’m far into the story, I’m on the journey with the character, and I’m connected to the character. That’s a mistake too, to rely on sentimentality to tell a reader how they should feel about a character’s situation.
    Great questions, Sara. I feel like I just wrote a blog post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No worries, Mandie. 😉 I was curious to see what other writers would think of this particular wisdom. And being a fan of UKLG’s stories, and therefore her worldbuilding and writing style, I can also see why she had said this.

      Funny you mention character emotions. In my stories I refrain from writing “Character A was angry,” or “Character B felt sad.” Instead, I prefer to use an “emotional cue” through body language or internal / physiological reaction, so that the reader experiences the emotion with the character. Not many writers and authors do that, and while I don’t criticize them for it (it’s all a matter of personal writing style in the end), I kind of like the idea of showing readers how a character feels rather than telling them.

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  3. It’s a balance – I do think there are some well known authors who feel a bit dated when there are pages of description and the characters are depicted from the outside in. Equally, some modern writers are not as effective with their worldbuilding as they might, given their concerns about the ‘show don’t tell’ injunction. But mostly, it isn’t a dealbreaker for me, so long as the shedloads of description don’t hold up the pace and action and the world still holds together with sufficient detail to allow me to imagine what is happening.

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    • Agreed. There are definitely instances where telling is important, and other times when showing works better. It’s just all a matter of using either in a way that serves the story well. I don’t usually have a problem with “show don’t tell” when I’m reading, either, but I do sense when there seems to be too much description or too much backstory.

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  4. Balance. In a way that serves the story. It’s important to know the rule/s though so that when you break them you’re doing so instinctively but, also, deliberately, I think, and in a way that serves the story.

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  5. I try to balance the two. Show over tell for most of the time, except for world descriptions that need “tell” as Ursula said, because you have to describe the place you created. You just have to. What would The Night Circus be without it’s descriptions?

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    • Exactly. Though some of Morgenstern’s descriptions are so vivid that they could count as showing rather than telling. She really puts readers in each setting and makes it easy to imagine each location and scene so clearly.

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  6. I think it’s always difficult when reading about writing and other people’s approach and there’s always a chance that you feel swayed towards following their example. I’ve suffered enough stress in the past because of it, the Good Lord knows 😉
    When it comes to show and tell, it can be hard to find a balance. I have telling moments in my stories, but I hope that they’re outweighed by showing ones.

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  7. I think that like all the rules, it needs to be understood instead of being followed blindly. Yes, showing instead of telling can enhance many scenes. But zealously tracking down every little bit of telling is not likely to improve them.

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    • ^^ This was exactly the reason why I shared this quote. Writers have a wide range of opinions when it comes to writing rules, and like you, I agree that it’s good to understand “show vs tell” and other rules, but how closely we want to “follow” those rules is up to us. There might be instances when telling works better than showing, and that’s fine. We have to decide for ourselves what works best at any given time, and achieve some kind of balance so we don’t overuse one over the other.

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