Thursday, May 03, 2007

Morrell Again

Here's David Morrell again, on showing and telling. "In practice, a certain amount of telling is inevitable. Otherwise, a story might never be completed. But it's useful to know which method you're using and to steer from telling to showing as soon as possible in order to provide the immediacy that is more likely to capture a reader's attention."

In this case, I agree absolutely. There are times when you have to "tell." There are times when "telling" gets you quickly through certain details that the reader needs to know in order to get to the exciting stuff that follows. That's the stuff you "show." Knowing when to show and when to tell seems to be the hard part.

13 comments:

Michelle's Spell said...

It's a very tricky balance, I think. Too much showing drives a person into madness and too little becomes really bland. And I think it's different for every writer -- some people can get away with tons of telling -- it all depends on how interesting the voice is, I think, in terms of how much weight it can carry.

cs harris said...

Yes, a tricky balance. I've seen authors bore readers and tie themselves in knots trying to show something they could quickly and easily have simply told. Perhaps the key is to keep the telling short and avoid it whenever possible even while recognizing that sometimes there is simply no graceful way around it.

Danny Tagalog said...

It's so true, and it can be applied to so much in life. I sometimes look at Moslem women and think how their husbands must have a different erotic mindset, as so much less is shown to the outer world. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating it - but often when much is concealed, the brain gets to work in more interesting ways.

But in fiction - as a reader, as in many aspects of life - it's often fun to be tricked, surprised and led down unsurprising pathways.

Sorry to digress!

Sheila said...

i often wonder if the saying is true.... "too much is always better than not enough"... sometimes I don't know.

Steve Malley said...

My rule of thumb is, if the reader's eyes glaze over, try something else. Show, tell, cut it right out and see if the story's still understandable.

Just no galzed eyes...

Donnetta Lee said...

I agree, Charles. I think Michelle said it nicely, "It's a very tricky balance."
Donnetta

JR's Thumbprints said...

If a story's loaded with too much narrative summary, my eyes get tired, I lose interest, and look for something else to read.

Bernita said...

"Tell" is pretty much necessary for those bridge paddages.

Sidney said...

A lot of times the telling can hold off for more immediate action, also. The question Donald Maas asked in the seminar I took was - "Can that info way for Chapter 20?" while you deal with the events at hand in an earlier chapter.

It can work both ways though. P.D. James usually spends a good bit of interesting time building up characters and the setting in which a murder will occur.

Kate S said...

Then there are those "tells" in dialogue that drive me crazy.

I just read six Jim Butcher books in a row and started to become really annoyed. First, he tells the background in each book (I understand it's so readers who haven't read the earlier series can get caught up, but I found myself skipping those parts and feeling annoyed that he was wasting my time.)

But the thing that bothered me most was his telling via dialogue that just didn't ring true. For example, a character might ask another, "Do you know what a Sabat is?" and the other character, rather than answering with a simple "Yes" would go into encyclopedic detail. Who talks like that? "Why, yes, Jim, I do. It's blah, blah, blah, blah, ad infinitum."

That being said, though, I still like the series. :)

Avery DeBow said...

My first draft of my book was a train wreck. I tried to tell everything in the first chapter. It was like my main character's high school biography mixed with a rap sheet. It was terrible. I had to teach myself what Sidney mentioned, and learn to wait to work the info in when it fell more naturally into the story. Even now, several revisions into it, I'm still finding little blurbs that look like I took a pause in the narration for a quick commercial break from Encyclopedia Britannica.

Erik Donald France said...

"Immediacy" is the Word.

Proust and Carver are both effective, and as different in approach as eating madeleines vs. salty potato chips.

the walking man said...

Isn't telling though a part of the showing? What I mean is don't the two have to flow along together.

Too much descriptive narrative is boring but it gives the background of the characters mindset but at the same time the character is in action doing something.

I wouldn't say for example "He's drinking single malt scotch whiskey, imported directly from the distillery, while he eyed the blond in the mirror he was going to shoot to collect his cash"

but rather ... "He eyed the contract in the mirror and felt his gun pressing into his waistband, without looking away from the mirror he simply said single malt to the bartender."

Is this the type of balance referred to? Gives place, reason, method and current action.