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Twilight floated a second fritter up to her mouth when she realized the first was gone. “What is in these things?” “Mostly love. Love ‘n about three sticks of butter.”

More Blog Posts500

  • 3 weeks
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  • 10 weeks
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  • 13 weeks
    Long and Long Overdue Bookplayer Update

    Hey, guys!
     
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Dec
4th
2012

Tell, Don't Show. Yes, you read that right. · 4:07am Dec 4th, 2012

More writing advice! Here's the quote you need to remember again:

Nobody teaches a writer anything.
You tell'em what you know.
You tell'em to find their voice and stay with it.
You tell the ones that have it to keep at it.
You tell the ones that don't have it to keep at it too... because that's the only way they're gonna get to where they're going.
- Wonder Boys

So, once more, this is what I know. In fact, this is me trying to explain to you that people trying to teach you to write might be doing it wrong.

"Show, don't tell" is popular advice for writers. What it means is not to make statements like: "Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself." Instead you're supposed to show signs that Matthew is enjoying himself. Something like: "Matthew smiled, much to his own surprise." There are a few good reasons for this. One is that most readers are smart enough to figure out that if Matthew is smiling, he is enjoying himself. Another is that showing is more immersive. (Usually. We'll get to that) It makes people feel like they're in the story, rather than reading about it. If you want to know more about what it is, and the reason behind it, the wikipedia article is short.

It is widely regarded as a good thing. To the point where many authors forget that there are very good reasons to either not avoid telling, or where telling improves the story. There are many top rated stories on this site where, if I were a braver person, I would post a link to this essay. Instead I post it here, in hopes that people willing to sort through a massivly TL;DR essay might get something out of it.

If you take nothing else from this, I hope it shows you to take writing advice with a grain of salt. All quotes are pulled from public domain classics on Project Gutenberg, and available there for free if you want to read more!

(Oh yeah, just so you know: This advice will never get you on EqD. It might make you a better writer, though.)


Tell, don't show IF. . .

. . . Your narrator has a distinctive voice.

This is the biggest one, and one that I feel unites most of these examples. Your narrator's voice is usually (in third person) what they call your authorial voice, and it just means what the words you write would sound like if you were talking. It includes things like sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation. And here's the thing: If your voice sounds interesting, you can tell people everything! People will read you because you're fun to read, even if nothing happens in the story. Because people read to be entertained, and when it comes down to it they don't care whether it's the narrator or the characters who are entertaining them.

Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams tell all. the. time. They go on for pages telling you stuff. And it’s awesome, because the voice they use is hilarious, with well timed jokes that perfectly match the absurdity of the world and scenes they’re telling you about.

But this doesn't only apply to comedy. LM Montgomery gives us this sweet little scene:

"Well, that is one of the things to find out sometime. Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there? But am I talking too much? People are always telling me I do. Would you rather I didn't talk? If you say so I'll stop. I can STOP when I make up my mind to it, although it's difficult."

Matthew, much to his own surprise, was enjoying himself. Like most quiet folks he liked talkative people when they were willing to do the talking themselves and did not expect him to keep up his end of it. But he had never expected to enjoy the society of a little girl. Women were bad enough in all conscience, but little girls were worse. He detested the way they had of sidling past him timidly, with sidewise glances, as if they expected him to gobble them up at a mouthful if they ventured to say a word. That was the Avonlea type of well-bred little girl. But this freckled witch was very different, and although he found it rather difficult for his slower intelligence to keep up with her brisk mental processes he thought that he "kind of liked her chatter." So he said as shyly as usual:

"Oh, you can talk as much as you like. I don't mind."

-L M Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Her voice tends to feel like that of a gossipy neighbor who just happens to know what characters are thinking, which means that when she decides to tell us something, it doesn't get boring. It fits right into Avonlea, the small town world of the story.

This also applies to first person. If your first person narrator is sufficiently interesting, the audience will enjoy asides and commentary on what’s going on. They can tell and show as much as that character would describe.

Watson does some pretty good telling here, as first person narrator:

To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for the observer--excellent for drawing the veil from men's motives and actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.

-Arthur Conan Doyle “A Scandal in Bohemia”

For a fanfic example of a very distinct voice, check out Twifight Sparkill. People who love her way of writing would probably gladly read an entire story by her that was nothing but her telling them what happened.

Oh yeah, that's one more thing about voice: It's subjective. SUBJECTIVE! Some people will hate a distinctive author's voice and some people will love it. This is just as true for Charles Dickens and Mark Twain as it is for Twifight. But since Twifight knows how she writes, she shouldn't be afraid to write that way, and you should never be afraid to write in your voice either. And if the people who read you like it, tell the "show, don't tell" crowd to go to hell.

. . . Your audience doesn't care.

Sometimes you have something that needs to be said and has nothing to do with the plot of the story. For example, let’s say that your seemingly normal British children have a nurse who happens to be a dog. This has nothing to do with their upcoming adventure in Neverland, so how do you get this information across?

Mrs. Darling loved to have everything just so, and Mr. Darling had a passion for being exactly like his neighbours; so, of course, they had a nurse. As they were poor, owing to the amount of milk the children drank, this nurse was a prim Newfoundland dog, called Nana, who had belonged to no one in particular until the Darlings engaged her. She had always thought children important, however, and the Darlings had become acquainted with her in Kensington Gardens, where she spent most of her spare time peeping into perambulators, and was much hated by careless nursemaids, whom she followed to their homes and complained of to their mistresses. She proved to be quite a treasure of a nurse.

-J M Barrie, Peter Pan

Mr. Barrie just went and told us things that, while interesting, are not in fact important to getting Wendy, John, and Michael to Neverland. We didn’t have to experience the scene or feel like we were there. We just ought to know that the Darlings have a nurse called Nana who happens to be a dog, and she is a good nurse. Great! We’re here for the pirates, anyway!

So if your ship fic has a scene where Dash goes to all of her friends houses before she goes to see AJ because she’s avoiding AJ, DON’T SHOW US (unless something interesting happens). Go ahead and tell, in a natural and amusing way if possible. Then show us what happens when she gets to AJ.

. . . You want a scene to move fast.

Showing is immersion, making you feel like you’re there. But it also slows down the pace. Every extra word your readers have to read makes the time passing in the story seem longer. But what if you’re trying to show them a scene that’s moving really fast? Tell them what’s happening, in as few words as possible.

Suddenly Uncle Henry stood up.

"There's a cyclone coming, Em," he called to his wife. "I'll go look after the stock." Then he ran toward the sheds where the cows and horses were kept.

Aunt Em dropped her work and came to the door. One glance told her of the danger close at hand.

"Quick, Dorothy!" she screamed. "Run for the cellar!"

- Frank L. Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Showing here isn’t immersion. The characters are not stopping to feel their skin crawl, or marveling at the black storm clouds piling. They are getting the hell to safety. The fast pace gives the reader the feeling of what the characters are doing, and that’s far more immersive than stopping to show in a scene where things are moving quickly.

As another example, meet d'Artagnan:

But, d’Artagnan was not of a character to allow a man to escape him thus who had the insolence to ridicule him. He drew his sword entirely from the scabbard, and followed him, crying, "Turn, turn, Master Joker, lest I strike you behind!"

"Strike me!" said the other, turning on his heels, and surveying the young man with as much astonishment as contempt. "Why, my good fellow, you must be mad!" Then, in a suppressed tone, as if speaking to himself, "This is annoying," continued he. "What a godsend this would be for his Majesty, who is seeking everywhere for brave fellows to recruit for his Musketeers!"

He had scarcely finished, when d’Artagnan made such a furious lunge at him that if he had not sprung nimbly backward, it is probable he would have jested for the last time. The stranger, then perceiving that the matter went beyond raillery, drew his sword, saluted his adversary, and seriously placed himself on guard. But at the same moment, his two auditors, accompanied by the host, fell upon d’Artagnan with sticks, shovels and tongs. This caused so rapid and complete a diversion from the attack that d’Artagnan’s adversary, while the latter turned round to face this shower of blows, sheathed his sword with the same precision, and instead of an actor, which he had nearly been, became a spectator of the fight--a part in which he acquitted himself with his usual impassiveness, muttering, nevertheless, "A plague upon these Gascons! Replace him on his orange horse, and let him begone!"

- Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers

. . . that escalated quickly. But things usually do in The Three Musketeers, and Dumas let them.

An extra note: This also works in a comedy scene where characters are talking almost on top of each other. If you're going for a fast paced, Joss Whedon or TV sitcom style of dialogue, skip the showing and description and let the characters talk as much as possible. This wasn't that popular in classic lit, but it's another trick Terry Pratchett uses frequently.


. . . You are making an important point or giving information that a reader needs to have absolutely clear for their understanding of a story.

Part of the beauty of showing is to let readers make up their own minds. But sometimes, you don’t want ambiguity. Your whole story hinges on one piece of information that your readers don’t know yet. Go ahead and tell them.

MARLEY was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

-Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol”

Everyone pretty clear on whether Marley was alive or not? Good.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

-Jane Austen, Emma

Emma has no particular problems in her life. You’ve been told.

Lest you think we can only do this at the beginning of a story, here’s Mr. Barrie again, well into Peter Pan:

Tink was not all bad; or, rather, she was all bad just now, but, on the other hand, sometimes she was all good. Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time. They are, however, allowed to change, only it must be a complete change. At present she was full of jealousy of Wendy.

-J.M. Barrie

Tink’s about to be a jerk, but it’s not because she’s evil. Usually.


. . . Some other cases I'm sure I missed.

Anyway I'm sure some people will not agree that my examples are correct, or even that the advice is correct. Feel free to fight it out in the comments. I'm interested in your opinions! Remember, no one else knows more about how you should write than you do. Even EqD.

Report bookplayer · 4,056 views ·
Comments ( 35 )

This article is quite longitudinal.

Anyway, some fair points. Check out Twifight Sparkill, she's a witch as well, and she'll cast a spell on you. A good spell, don't worry.

BRING ME YOUR SHRUBBERIES

I will learn from this with learning. Now I can do anything.

I would tell you something about the post right now, but unfortunately, I've been incapacitated.

- Church :trollestia:

571097
While I'm having writing trouble with pony stories and anything useful, long winded essays seem to be where my brain is right now. :twilightsmile:

I'll admit I skimmed here or there, but you brought up several good points regarding what writing styles to adopt in different situations. I'm gonna bookmark this so I can give it a closer read later (I've been needing a 'guide' of this sort).

EQD and their Show vs Tell... xD

I've been preparing a blog post myself on the same topic! Famous novelists tell instead of showing a great deal of the time. Shakespeare has a strong preference for telling over showing.

In short stories, telling is less common--but this makes little sense, since it's less useful in novels. I think this is a stylistic prejudice that comes from the closer connection between poetry and short stories. Modernist sentiment is that short stories should be something like Symbolist or Imagist poetry, a collection of powerful, evocative images and emotionally-laden words that may or may not have any coherent meaning.

I was also inspired to write on this topic by the folks at Equestria Daily.

571138
It was actually inspired by last night's essay on reviewers, in which I drew from both EqD reviews and other people whose opinions I actually value as a writer, like yourself and First_Down. As I was considering what made a good, useful review and what didn't, it occurred to me how useless "show, don't tell" is by itself, and how damaging it can be to writers who don't know when not to take advice. (Also, a certain rather popular EqD reviewer made some comments on Knighty's post that made me roll my eyes.)

As to its use in short stories more than novels, I think it's also partially to do with it being a relativity modern idea. Most "classic" short stories you read in college are only from around the 1920's, at earliest. Classic novels seem to hang around longer and influence more.

I was actually thinking, as I was putting this together, about the loss of strong authorial voices in modern novels, the voices that make "telling" so enjoyable. The author was a presence in the Victorian novel, to the point of being able to address the readers on occasion, and with a few notable exceptions (Pratchett and Adams being the ones I'm most familiar with) this is out of style among modern writers. I think "show, don't tell" is either responsible for the death of the entertaining third person narrator, or rose to power in it's absence.

All that being said, I'd love to hear your take on it! I hope you still make that post.

This was very interetsting, and don't get me wrong it was informative and immersive cause I love learning new things, but all I can think of now is drinking a nice cold, glass of milk after reading that excerpt from Peter Pan. Peace and I'm out!

Hmmm...I have written a good-sized story on this site...is it bad that I don't quite remember whether I showed or told? Maybe I did a little of both... :applejackunsure:

That was immensely helpful! It was an inspired and informative composition even I could understand - that's saying alot.

As a complete and utter fledgling, having found herself a bit lost in the social furor and failure of an open forum, I am EXTREMELY grateful to be able to rely upon the artisans I modestly consider to be the true of writers and noblest of intentions. Without your patient philanthropy, Bookplayer, I don't think I could even dare to put words to thoughts. Admittedly, in some instances I don't believe I SHOULD, yet... this has become a vast instrument to vocalize both frustrations and bottled emotions, and having nothing but the very worst outlets in my personal life, I am subsequently drawn to the quaint and persisting innocence of pastel donkey fictions. Even if I tend to abuse them, demoralize them, and outright victimize them - c'mon, if nothing else is sacred, why should little cartoon ponies be absolved? I'm gentle though, I promise.

"For a fanfic example of a very distinct voice, check out Twifight Sparkill. People who love her way of writing would probably gladly read an entire story by her that was nothing but her telling them what happened.

Oh yeah, that's one more thing about voice: It's subjective. SUBJECTIVE! Some people will hate a distinctive author's voice and some people will love it. This is just as true for Charles Dickens and Mark Twain as it is for Twifight. But since Twifight knows how she writes, she shouldn't be afraid to write that way, and you should never be afraid to write in your voice either. And if the people who read you like it, tell the "show, don't tell" crowd to go to hell."

That made me feel very... I don't know how to describe it. Delighted? Overwhelmed? Made me dance in circles for actually having something in my fetid wreckless life to be proud of? Cry a bit? All of the previous, come to think. I cannot recall, in any recent or enfeebled recollection, of ever having been given the monnicker "unique". I am still awed by what I consider to be one of the kindest anointments I've received since being allowed off the floor by my ex-boyfriend. The burns on my knees were terrible. ME SO HAPPY!

I also owe you for introducing me to Church and Bad Horse a bit more formally, the first being a great calamatous mess of talent, and... well, Bad Horse is too, but he's a teacher as well. I have read his dissertations on the manners and matters of writing etiquette, and it's been an indispensible reference. I wonder, is there a group dedicated to this? If there is, you two would know. DIVULGE IMMEDIATELY. Please!

Okay, enough blubbering. Just rely upon this - you're awesome, and I will kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise.

... also, if you read your entire blog post in Twilight's voice, it's pretty awesome.

:pinkiehappy:

571389

Having both in a story is good, bro. When you tell your audience something, it makes what you actually go about and show have more impact, in my view.

Then again, I write very tersely, so when I actually go into specifics it's for a good reason, usually.

571389571451
I absolutely agree with Merc.

Showing is important. You're going to have scenes in your story where you want to be as descriptive as possible. You want to have scenes that leave the characters emotions to the audience to figure out. And if you tell too much, the story can move too fast when you didn't mean for it to.

But too many people will tell you to always show, which leads to boring scenes that don't need to be there, slow action or comedy scenes, and misunderstanding of plot points. If you've struggled with any of those things, you're showing too much.

I seem to suffer from this problem in my writing as some people have told me, but no one bothered to tell me what it meant or what I was doing wrong. Now that I have an idea about what it means and what I should not do I think I can minimize this error. Thank you for the advice my friend.

571429
At this point in time, I'd listen to you read the phone book, if we still had phone books.

571429

... also, if you read your entire blog post in Twilight's voice, it's pretty awesome.

Between you, and Church's story, I've laughed so much tonight that I think my husband is suspicious. I feel like Twilight lately. Can't think of anything to write? Fine, I'll lecture!

Anyway, you do have the most unique voice I've read on this site! It will never be everyone's cup of tea, but it will be someone's cup of tea with just the right about of cream, and scones on the side. It was a perfect example of how that can make even the narration in a story enjoyable if you like tea. Or something.

As far as I know, there's no group for collecting helpful essays on writing analysis around here. There are various groups that offer help for writers, but none that I know of that go into the real theory of writing, like Bad Horse and I enjoy doing at times. Setting up a group makes that hard to do, the essays would need to be copied and pasted into folders or something. But anyone who wants to is welcome to paste my ramblings anywhere!

You just shone a new light into my head...

This is what I base a lot of my understanding of the old "Show, don't tell' mantra on. As you've demonstrated with your examples, telling makes more sense in a lot of situations. From my understanding, there is actually only one time when you should show instead of tell--if you want readers to empathize with your characters. Which is a lot of the time. Probably most of the time. 'Show, don't tell' has everything to do with author's intent.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.
-Jane Austen, Emma

Just grabbing a random quote. The purpose of this line is to describe the character. Showing wouldn't make a lot of sense if all you're trying to do is lay down the facts. But if Austen actually wanted us to feel what it's like to like to live a stress free life, she would have had to show us what living that style feels like. Or, a better example, saying "John felt frightened" is fine if all you want us to do is let the reader know that John felt frightened. But if you're writing horror and you want the reader to feel frightened, you need to show what's frightening John and write it in a way that frightens the reader too. You can even still say "John felt frightened", just as long as you explain why.

Or just ignore all that. It's just my opinion. I really don't know what I'm talking about at all. :twilightsheepish:

571866
While that's mostly true, in some cases telling in an interesting way does that as much as showing. (I think the Sherlock Holmes quote does an amazing job of letting us empathize with how Holmes feels about Adler. That is 100% telling.)

If a character doesn't care about a piece of information, is as bored by it as the audience would be, telling is useful to let us empathize there too. (Example: Dash went through the boring stuff first: the grocery store, then to pick up her paycheck, then to the bank. When she was finally done her errands, she started bouncing as she approached the movie theater, passing the poster for the new Daring Do movie." Showing the boring part is boring, and that's what Dash feels.)

And the other thing is the point about pacing. If the characters are moving quickly, you're not exactly emphasizing with them by slowing down the action to show a bunch of stuff about how they're scared. You're better off keeping things moving so your readers feel as rushed as the characters do.

I mean, in my opinion. :twilightsheepish:

574815
I have now. A very interesting read! Thank you for typing that out. You're a strange character, iloveportlz0r, but I like you.

I personally think that some of what's being said there is slightly incorrect. For example, fantasy has a history of worlds just as strange and stories just as grand as Science Fiction, but starting with Tolkien it's often been served well by florid prose. To me, it comes back to voice. One thing that I've found in writing is that it's very hard to write in a voice that isn't yours. Some people develop a voice that uses florid prose, and that's awesome. But other people don't, they write in plain speech, and that's also awesome.

I think where things go wrong is when one or the other comes into style in writing, and you get people trying to imitate a voice that isn't their own. In other words, I think if Tolkien tried to write in plainer prose, it probably would have been awful. But if Asimov tried to match Tolkien's dense worditude, it would have been just as bad. They each had a voice, and people enjoyed it for different reasons.

I'll toss out one more thought on the subject: In looking for examples for this, I was struck by how poorly some of the classics were written. It occurred to me that maybe, for some stories, it doesn't even matter how well you write. Just the story is awesome enough that if you're telling people, they'll want hear it. In that case, all the how-to-write stuff in the world isn't going to do anything for you if you don't have an awesome idea first.

Sorry, just my thoughts. :moustache:

571912

I would consider that showing. Maybe not as a description, but as... I'm not really sure... something else. I don't think showing is just more elaborate descriptions, it's something more than that. I'm not sure what. Maybe it doesn't matter.

575060 >Thank you for typing that out
:rainbowkiss:

>You're a strange character, iloveportlz0r
I am not iloveportlz0r

>I like you
e.deviantart.com/emoticons/moods/love/affection/flirty.gif

>Sorry, just my thoughts
Okay :moustache:

I don't quite know how I got here, but the read proved to be quite interesting and insightful. :twilightsmile:

Side note on fairies:

They are, however, allowed to change, only it must be a complete change.

cache2.allpostersimages.com/p/LRG/19/1914/SXK9D00Z/plakaty/tinker-bell-and-peter-pan-a-touch-of-magic.jpg
Well, that escalated changed all right. Quite quickly and rather drastically, if you ask me:
images6.fanpop.com/image/photos/32200000/Secret-of-the-wings-group-pic-vidia-from-tinkerbell-32285169-400-225.jpg

:rainbowlaugh:

Finally, after what seemed like years of fighting and wrestling, and other various physical exertions, excretions—and who knows what else, I've found a group of individuals that aren't afraid to sit down at their PC, word processor, or tablet, and just create; and to do so without fear of the "Fingermen" of literary propriety, with a propensity for pompous, pious, and dare I say, perpendicular posturing for perfect prose.

Voice and style, style and voice. These are important to me, in both what I write, how I write, as well as what I read. I try to make each thing I write carry a distinctive tone, tempo, and feel, and while I'll be the first to say as loudly as possible, that I don't always succeed in what I want to accomplish(just check the unfinished scrap pile in my closet), I believe firmly that my efforts aren't wasted trying to please others. Right or wrong, a story is only as good as it can be conveyed, let God be praised, and the Grammarians fix it later.

Show don't tell is a bane of my writing experience, and while I understand the meaning of the phrase, I am also self-aware enough, or rather can see the bigger picture enough, that I can comprehend where it falls in the pecking order of mandates. Certainly all the tools are necessary, just like a pizza must have a crust, sauce, toppings. But too much of either of them, is enough to ruin the pie, and make me a very sad dude.

This is a very interesting essay and I am glad that someone linked this to me. Great job on it! I found it very informative.

This is good, I needed this. Thanks.

People -- well-meaning people -- are always telling you to "Show, don't tell". An' that's bullshit. I ain't shootin' a movie here. All I got is tell. So when I tell you that Matt's knees were knocking faster than a metal drumer with double-bass peddles, you better believe he was fucking terrified, and whatever it was scared him deserved it.

Uh, pardon my language.

So telling is also good for placing small chunks of backstory, then? Scene-setting and important information?

571241
Hm. Just a thought about narrator.

Imagine someone reading a book for children. Now imagine someone reading a book for children with adding of his own comments to the story.

What if author's voice is basically what we'd hear if the book was read aloud as a bedtime story? :rainbowhuh:
Is this why it's so likable and welcomed? :rainbowderp:

Sorry. I'm on coffee and not thinking straight. I hope I made the thought at least partially understandable.

P.S. Thanks for lecture. It helps. It really helps a lot.

Ah yes,that old adage.
Personally, I agree completely that "show don't tell" is utter nonsense. It's like saying "run don't walk".

For example, in Ezn's Writing Guide, this is the example of show:

Show: Princess Celestia looked down at Twilight Sparkle, an age-worn face on a pillow. Her eyes were wet with tears. Twilight’s face appeared to change before her eyes – to green, to brown, to yellow. All old, all smiling… all with permanently closed eyelids.

Maybe it's just me, but I have no freaking idea what's going on in this scene! The entire thing is really unclear.

Then I read the example of tell:

Tell: Princess Celestia looked down at Twilight Sparkle’s dead form, lying in the bed. She remembered doing the same with her previous students.

Now I thought that the tell example was much clearer. It told me exactly what was going on, instead of making me scratch my head. There is a time and place for everything, and it's up to the writer to decide upon the best course of action for their story.

1866589 Personally, I find the show example to be adequately clear, if a bit purple in the prose. Not suitable for just anywhere, but quite an appropriate way to start a story that delves deeply into 'Tia's psyche (whether or not it is unbearably pretentious about doing so).

I'm so glad I ran into this post (not so much the time at which I did it). EqD rejected my fic for exactly the same reason back when I had only just begun to post on it. A few things of what you explained here is exactly what I lacked the words to express to them. There's just not enough time, and no one has long enough of an attention span for a writer to "show" every last thing in a way that can give depth to emotion, atmosphere, location, etc. all in the same story. It's rather frustrating since it seems to be their default reply. Still, I'm glad to have found this.

You, sir or madam,have great advice.
I get this advice all the time and it can just be the trickiest thing. I try to balance it out, and I've gotten better, but it can be hard to know when to write something out or just hint/suggest it. Sometimes a reviewer will say I did too much, and others not enough, for different stories.

Like I said, I used to explain too much. First story I ever wrote on here has it, and I was a big problem. So I do my best.

But this is good advice, thank you.

A lot of modern writing advice boils down to "Don't write like the Late Georgians or Victorians." Which is interesting, because there were a lot of damned good Late Georgian and Victorian writers.

"Show, don't tell" is popular advice for writers.

To my everlasting frustration.

If I could perform but one duty to the world before dying, it would be killing show don't tell. The false doctrine of writing.

Lots and lots of great examples here. I promise, one day I'll come back to this blog when writing my own. More than that, I plan to wage an all out war. I hope you'll join me ^.^

Not sure how I ended up here, but I very much agree with the point HoofBitingActionOverload made about how showing does one thing very well, and it's something you generally want most of your story to do. That said, I pretty much agree with all your points here about when telling works just fine. And the reason why is because the author needs to think about what the showing or telling is accomplishing there, and there are a lot of aspects to that. I think I've pointed out every one of these situations to writers I've given feedback as examples of why telling works in certain places, as a way of saying, "Hey, I bugged you about showing more in the last chapter, but here's a spot where the telling works fine, and I want you to understand why so you don't change it here." The fundamental problem is that the author does need to understand it, and too many throw "show, don't tell" out the window without understanding it. And that's just as harmful as the people who believe there can be no exceptions to showing.

I mean, I think we fundamentally agree here, and that's best shown by HBAO's exchange with you. What both of you said gets at the same way I feel about the topic, but what makes me nervous is the clickbait-y way it's titled, which can be misleading. I see so many comments saying, "Thank you for standing up to The Establishment and backing me up that I don't have to follow that rule." Yet a lot of these people probably aren't at the point they show good discernment over when to apply it, so encouraging them not to may be counterproductive, if they take the overall tone more than the nuanced arguments being made.

That's why I was a bit mystified by the jab at EqD. I wouldn't have felt it necessary to respond to a blog so old, except you have it hot-linked off your homepage, so it's still somewhere it gets lots of visibility. There are really two parts to this.

One, it's demonstrably false that learning how to use telling in the right places will keep you off EqD. If it didn't mean violating confidentiality, I'd copy out email response after email response pointing out examples of places where the PR thought telling didn't work in a specific application, not a blanket statement that all telling is bad. Do you have specific examples of this? I don't doubt you get a lot of anecdotal evidence, but that's notoriously inaccurate. I can't count the number of times I've seen an author say they only got rejected because of dash usage, but in every single case, the author has conveniently failed to mention the dozen other problems cited, because it doesn't serve their purpose to do so. While we do send out lots of feedback that stories use too much telling, lots of those are from beginning authors who don't know how to show, so by default they're using too much telling, because that's all they do.

And that leads into the other part. Because that's the majority of the stories we're submitted, we'll give out that feedback the majority of the time, so most people will complain about that, and that's what everyone hears. But I still think that except for a few borderline cases, you'd find most of those stories are telling in places they shouldn't be.

But the bottom line is: no, telling will not keep you off EqD.

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Regarding EqD: At a certain point, showing vs. telling becomes a matter of taste. For example, often you hit a scene where it's a trade-off between emotional resonance and clarity. It was my impression at the time, and remains as I've had more interaction with current or former EqD prereaders, that the tastes of EqD err on the side of showing rather than telling. In fact, Ferret is prereading my current fic, and that's one of our few areas of disagreement, and I've had similar situations with Bradel in the past. This is nothing against them, or EqD, but I agreed with the popular perception at the time (this was during the three strikes period) that EqD sometimes dinged things that I personally thought fell under the above exceptions.

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