Need help with show don’t tell

Deke

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So help me out here. I need to discern a bit of nuance between show don’t tell.

The icy surface stung her bare feet- this is showing correct?

The floor was cold- this is telling correct?

The floor felt icy on her feet- is this showing or telling? This is the part I am unsure of. It says “felt” so it seems to be showing but I am unsure.
 

The Judge

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First of all, to an extent it doesn't matter if it's showing or telling -- what matters is getting the idea across in the best way possible. Sometimes that might mean telling is to be preferred, so don't get hung up on having to show every time.

However, here "felt" is a veil word -- it gets between us and the character -- so it's best avoided unless it's necessary. Is the floor cold? If it is, then "felt" isn't necessary; if it isn't actually cold, but just appears to be cold for some reason, then the "felt" might be needed, though personally I'd try and reword it.

Anyhow, to my mind there is a continuum of showing and telling, it's not a complete yes/no affair. So for me, the "icy" line is mostly showing, the "was cold" is entirely telling and the "felt icy" is mostly telling.

Here's a post I made some time back which might help explain my ideas more The Toolbox -- The Important Bits and here's one from Jo on veil, or filter, words The Toolbox -- The Important Bits

There's also this thread with a few more thoughts on showing -v- telling which might be of help. Show don't Tell concept is confusing
 

WSDuffy

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The Judge has it right, as always. To add my tiny piece of insight, I think that in cases like you describe the showing/telling delineation hits on whether the sentence or action is part of the story or a description of the story. In the case of "felt icy between her feet" I would say it is telling if "icy" is just similar for cold, but potentially showing if there was a reason that her feeling was key to the plot (i.e. if she couldn't see and was intentionally walking barefoot to use her sense of touch to tell if she was on the solid ground or on top of a frozen lake). Hope that helps.
 

paranoid marvin

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Show-don't-tell isn't always the best policy. When reading a story, it sometimes works better for the author to tell the reader what is happening than to expect them to figure it out for themselves.

I agree with the Judge that all 3 sentences are telling the reader rather than showing.

I think perhaps part of the issue here is that you trying to 'show' in too brief a sentence. This is where 'tell' helps, in that you can get straight to the point; the floor is cold, now let's move on.

An possible alternative would be, 'She walked gingerly across the floor, taking care not to slip. Already numbness was creeping into her toes and the soles of her feet; why hadn't she put on her slippers?
 

sknox

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Are you asking out of curiosity or are you looking for feedback on a specific piece of writing? If the former, what are you looking for? That is, supposing you got a satisfactory answer, how do you imagine knowing would help?

I ask because sometimes the answer is: it doesn't really matter, just get back to writing. But sometimes the answer can be something more attuned to one's particular situation.
 

Wayne Mack

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Instead of looking at the wording, consider how the information being conveyed affects the story. If it is merely information that provides setting, use simple descriptive text and tell the reader. If this affects the point of view character, then describe how the character is affected and show the reader.
 

Deke

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Are you asking out of curiosity or are you looking for feedback on a specific piece of writing? If the former, what are you looking for? That is, supposing you got a satisfactory answer, how do you imagine knowing would help?

I ask because sometimes the answer is: it doesn't really matter, just get back to writing. But sometimes the answer can be something more attuned to one's particular situation.
This isn’t a specific case, I’m writing and would prefer that all the little things like show don’t tell be there in the rough draft. I don’t want to have to do it all in the second and subsequent drafts. I just pulled those lines out of the air.
 

Deke

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First of all, to an extent it doesn't matter if it's showing or telling -- what matters is getting the idea across in the best way possible. Sometimes that might mean telling is to be preferred, so don't get hung up on having to show every time.

However, here "felt" is a veil word -- it gets between us and the character -- so it's best avoided unless it's necessary. Is the floor cold? If it is, then "felt" isn't necessary; if it isn't actually cold, but just appears to be cold for some reason, then the "felt" might be needed, though personally I'd try and reword it.

Anyhow, to my mind there is a continuum of showing and telling, it's not a complete yes/no affair. So for me, the "icy" line is mostly showing, the "was cold" is entirely telling and the "felt icy" is mostly telling.

Here's a post I made some time back which might help explain my ideas more The Toolbox -- The Important Bits and here's one from Jo on veil, or filter, words The Toolbox -- The Important Bits

There's also this thread with a few more thoughts on showing -v- telling which might be of help. Show don't Tell concept is confusing
Is show don’t tell still a requirement in today’s writing? I see a lot of people still stating it is very much required but also most books I read in the genre I am writing in (military S/F) seem to be mostly telling. Or maybe that’s an inaccurate description as they mostly just seem brief.

Less long rambling descriptions and more punchy short lines with brief analogies instead of long winded ones. And maybe not even military s/f, but s/f in general.

I’m a long way from being able to write good first drafts in this manner and it’s not like it’s super important but it’s all about trying to learn as I go and improve my writing and if show don’t tell is something I need to master than it seems smart to start sooner rather than later.

Edit: also thank you for the resources I will look into them ASAP
 

Deke

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Instead of looking at the wording, consider how the information being conveyed affects the story. If it is merely information that provides setting, use simple descriptive text and tell the reader. If this affects the point of view character, then describe how the character is affected and show the reader.
I’m currently trying to implement it in those pauses between action or exposition that are used to describe the world and atmosphere.

Also I struggle with informing the reader about the M/C inner workings since I haven’t written before and I’m writing in third person limited, so it can be hard starting out to nail down what the MC is feeling or thinking.
 

The Judge

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Is show don’t tell still a requirement in today’s writing? I see a lot of people still stating it is very much required but also most books I read in the genre I am writing in (military S/F) seem to be mostly telling.
I think there are an awful lot of people out there who repeat ideas without fully understanding them, and elevate suggestions and recommendations into Rules Which Must Not Be Broken. But as far as I'm concerned, there are no requirements in writing. The only rule is -- Does It Work?

As writers we obsess about our craft, but frankly most readers couldn't care. They're interested in the plot and characters and they want to be engaged and entertained. That's the be-all and end-all of what we should be thinking about.

Sometimes it's best to show, as it's more engaging. Sometimes it's best to tell, as it's quicker. In the other thread I linked to, goldhawk has a very pithy line about which to use when: Show what your protagonist is doing as they experience it. Tell everything else. though I have to confess that much as I admire it as an idea, I'm too lazy to follow it myself.
 

tinkerdan

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As with what @The Judge said.
Show don't tell is likely being overworked these days--to the point that some times I'm not sure that the person using it fully knows what they are talking about.

Oddly with critique in forums it becomes a telling problem since most critics are cautioned not to show too much of what they tell you is wrong for fear of rewriting your work for you.

It reminds me of when I'm struggling at something new like drywalling or other carpentry and someone comes by and says 'you are doing that al wrong'; and then they walk away. Come on. Show me or keep the lips buttoned.
 

Deke

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Yeah I have some issues learning all this new stuff cause I’m a visual learner as well. I learn better with touching and doing etc in person and though I would surely love to stick it to Uncle Sam and drain some of my GI bill they won’t let you take individual classes, and I would barely have time for individual college courses with a full time job.

But slowly, I learn. Gives me something to do when work is slow.
 

Flaviosky

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This thread has been greatly clarifying to a similar issue I had with my writing, so thanks everyone (y)
 

sknox

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Here's another suggestion. Grab a book or two or ten. When you come across a passage that *you* feel is telling rather than showing *and* that it would be better as showing, write that passage out. I'm a fan of hand writing, but typing will do.

Then re-write it the way *you* think would be showing rather than telling.

The goal of such exercises is for the author to develop a sense of what *for them* is showing and what *for them* is telling. That has to come first. Nothing anyone says matters before you write.

Then, once you've written, let your beta readers, your editors, and your audience tell you if you are showing or telling. Readers' opinions can only matter once you've given them something to read.

Oh, and don't worry about that first draft. Almost no one writes good first drafts.
 

Deke

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Great idea @sknox I’ll give it a try. And that’s good advice on first drafts, though I enjoy beating on myself too much to listen.
 

DLCroix

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I think that thinking too much about that aspect will put a hindrance and even a distraction that will slow down your writing itself, similar to having someone on your back while you write, it is evident that you cannot be comfortable that way. In addition, experience has taught me that the first thing is to tell the story to yourself, no matter the way, the objective is to outline the matter in its thickest or general lines and above all before you lose your enthusiasm. Then, in a second review, you will be able to see more calmly what things you use to count and what to show. Some you can turn into dialogues; others will involve rewriting and rethinking scenes, but if you don't get that first draft it's very difficult to move on to the next phase later. :ninja:
 

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