tirsdag den 21. april 2009

Telling, not Showing


[Hvis du hellere vil diskutere på dansk, så kig her]

As I have already confessed to my Danish readers why I am so busy right now, it might be a good idea to earn up to the rest of the world as well: I have joined an online writing course.

And why have I made up my mind to tell you? Obviously, I have some sort of sinister motive.
Advantage one: I don´t have to beat about the bush and try to remember whom I told what etc..
Advantage two: I can exploit it, not only on my new, Danish writing blog, but also in here (exploit you, really.)

So what do I need your help for this week, dear reader? I want you to tell me what you think about the principle "showing, not telling".

Who decided that that was the only correct way to write fiction?

When? (my back was probably turned - it usually is)

Why?

And if you should feel inspired to write your own blog posts with discussions, literary examples or authors who are famous for one or the other, please come back and tell me. I really want to know what you think!

15 kommentarer:

farmlanebooks sagde ...

I think that showing, not telling is really important.

Books which tell you things, rather than show them, often come across as patronising. As a reader, being treated like an idiot, really winds me up!

An example of this is the supposed classic "Great Granny Webster" by Caroline Blackwood. It was nominated for the Booker prize (so some people will disagree with me!), but the novel revolves around a teenager telling us about how evil her family was. All this "telling" led me to be bored. I didn't engage with the characters and I wondered whether I could trust the narrator. If she had given us examples the things they did then I could have made my own judgement as to whether they were evil or not.

Interesting discussion! I’d like to know if there are any good novels which “tell” out there, as I haven’t found any yet!

Jane sagde ...

I agree fully with the above comments. It is a little like those "connect-the-dots" for children. If I read a book that is showing, and I am able to arrive at a reasonable conclusion, it makes me feel all intelligent and accomplished. A "telling" book will just make me that my time would have been better spent reading a textbook.
Of course, a really good book (in my opinion) will show enough to lead the reader to the right area, but leave some ambiguity.
The downside of showing is that it is so easy to be decived. I was just thinking about that aspect when I read my first Mankell. He shows a picture of the world as he sees it, and it is simply not possible (at least, it was not for me) to arrive at a different conclusion than him. But if someone else had shown me another (but not unnecessarily wrong or untruthfull) picture of China and politics and all that jazz, I might have concluded something entirely different. Obviously, Mankell told me something by showing me something :-) Does that make any sense?

Some Random User sagde ...

Well, as usual, there are exceptions to any general rule! There are some occasions where telling is important, in order to move the story along, for example.

However, yes, in general, showing is better because it allows the reader more involvement - to feel that they have drawn their own conclusions rather than accepted what they were fed :-)

-- Tim

Dorte H sagde ...

Jackie, thank you for your contribution, and good idea to refer to an example. And from what you write about the book, I am quite sure I wouldn´t like it either.

Jane, what you say certainly makes sense, and like you and Jackie, I certainly resent being patronised. And in my crime fiction genre, the balance between what to tell the readers about the plot is highly important. What I am struggling with, however, is the descriptions of characters. I think a good writer can show a lot, but I also love writers who describe well and use crisp and unusual adjectives. Perhaps I have misunderstood the concept, but from the way people talk about showing and telling, there doesn´t seem to be other options than sheer dialogue and facts. I know; I am exaggerating, but that is because I am a bit frustrated by having a rule thrown into my face with no teachers around to discuss it with.

Dorte H sagde ...

Tim, thank you for joining in.

"There are some occasions where telling is important, in order to move the story along, for example." I am glad that you are on my side: telling is not always wrong :)

Martin Edwards sagde ...

I think writing tips are best thought of as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. As a general guide, I very much agree in the 'show not tell' principle. I may have deviated from it occasionally in practice, mind you, especially in my early writing.
Very best of luck with your course. Hope you enjoy it, too.

Beth F sagde ...

Shoot, I'm late to the discussion! Jackie pretty much said everything I wanted to say. I don't know who came up with it, but I hate being told as if I were some kind of idiot.

It is more interesting to read a scene that tells the time period through dress or cars or music or politics than to be told the date (for example). Show me the man is a bumbling fool, don't tell me.

Bernadette in Australia sagde ...

I'm definitely not a fan of being lectured at which is what I feel like is happening with the worst of "telling instead of showing". Kathy Reichs last book that I just read is a great example of why it's wrong - her character launches into a list of facts about religions (or bones or dirt) and I feel like I'm back in high school being droned at by that awful teacher.

Another example is Stieg Larsson's first book. After showing us so beatifully (via what happens to Lisbeth) why putting perfectly sane people in the hands of state sponsored guardians is a really bad idea Larsson had a 3-4 page rant about the issue as well - almost stepping completely out of the narrative. I hated that bit of an otherwise excellent book.

When I read fiction I want to be immersed in the story, the people, the events - if there's a political or socila message and author wants to share or some facts they want to give me then they have to make them part of the narrative in some way.

Telling me stuff is for non-fiction (which I also read) (sometimes)

Dorte H sagde ...

Martin, thank you for your encouragement, and it is good to hear that you "may have deviated from it occasionally" :D
I stray away from it all the time, I am afraid, but yesterday I pulled myself together and found articles and examples via Google - something the school could have done for us, said the teacher! And I think it helped. I am going to practise over the next weeks (months? - years? - decades?), and I may even summon the courage to try writing short pieces in English.

Dorte H sagde ...

Beth, I think your example (showing the period, not telling it) is a good one. I am sure you can all see that this week I am the one who feels like an idiot - just like being back in first grade, and this time with teachers who are not available.

Dorte H sagde ...

Thanks, Bernadette, for another fine example - and actually, I recall that Stieg´s first also annoyed me. I thought his introductions to new sections with short facts about abuse of women were enough. They could stand alone, we had got it, but he went on and on.

Kerrie sagde ...

I reviewed a book earlier this year Dorte that was the worst example of tell not show that I have come across. It was stacked with details about what people were wearing, what they ate etc., and dialogue, but the characters hardly ever did anything! My brain ached trying to assimilate all the detail, but there was no action to hang it all on.

Dorte H sagde ...

Kerrie, I am glad I came up with the idea of combining my writing course experiences and my crime blog :D
It seems I have hit on a theme which really inspire people to comment and discuss. (Much better than if I had written another BIP post on commenting, I think).
Was it on purpose you didn´t tell me which book it was - or have you completely forgotten?

Ms. Bookish sagde ...

What a great question! My thoughts on this, in terms of fiction, is that showing is important for characterization. When an author tells rather than shows, characterization suffers.

I think for nonfiction, though, telling has it's place. But showing is still important - they make the text far more user-friendly!

Dorte H sagde ...

Ms Bookish, I wrote about this subject because I am struggling with it myself, and it has been such a great surprise that my readers are so engaged in it :D