A different kind of "showing" vs "telling"

msstice

200 words a day = 1 novel/year
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Version 1
Kenny looked up. A vulture circled silently in the cloudless blue sky. He gripped the spoon more tightly in his mouth and began scooping the sand away from his head with renewed vigor.

Version 2
A vulture circled silently in the cloudless blue sky. Kenny gripped the spoon more tightly in his mouth and began scooping the sand away from his head with renewed vigor.


There are some subtleties in the two presentations above.

Distance: V1 first tells us Kenny is looking somewhere, then shows us what he sees. This is more distant than V2 where we just see what Kenny sees.
Emphasis: V1 emphasizes the seeing, especially if we aren't in the habit of peppering the text with such action verbs. It also emphasizes a pause in the action and gives it more space to breathe.


Now, despite my professional looking analysis here, I don't actually know what other people think when they read this. Do most people just skip over it, so it doesn't affect how they receive this text? Does the extra distance bother them?
 
It's impossible to say what most people do. In truth, i can't even say what i do. Even in reading the same novel, i might skip one passage, like another, dislike another.

The real question is, which do you like? If you dislike one, use the other.
 
The "looked" is what Ursa calls a veil word and Jo calls a filter, and yes, they're distancing -- here's Jo's post about them The Toolbox -- The Important Bits

If a veil word adds something to the line, it's worth keeping; if it doesn't, then try and do without it, to stay closer to the character. The odd one isn't a problem, but too many of them might well be.

Having said that I suspect this is one of those issues that worries us as writers more than it ever worries readers.
 
I generally prefer to roll with the first. It feels more true to how people recount their stories.

Most conventional writing advice will tell you to do the second. Less words, if nothing else. I usually edit from the first to the second.

I personally find the latter more distancing. Removing the physical actions makes it feel more consciously literary and less like I'm hearing someone recount a story. I guess if someone was writing it in a close enough way that it feels like a stream of consciousness monologue it wouldn't feel distancing, but personally that a) went out the window the moment the third person pov was established b) requires a more cluttered voice, because people don't think and talk that smooth.

But I know when I'm beat.
 
I'm not sure I agree that V1 is more distant. Out of context, V2 might be more so, because we're not given POV, only left to infer it. The circling vulture is out on its own, as if we're with an omni narrator.

The first one also makes it seem that Kenny looked up deliberately for something. The second, he might have just noticed the vulture at the edge of his vision and then focused on it.

I agree with Peat that the first feels more natural, the second more literary.
 
I agree with The Big Peat. The first one brought me into the scene. If this is our introduction to Kenny and/or this scene then V1 brings us in and adds to the surprise that Kenny is trying to dig himself out with a spoon.

V1 suggested to me that the vulture has added urgency to Kenny's digging.

V2 suggests that Kenny is in the process of digging and a vulture is also there. Kenny gripping the spoon more tightly is not directly associated with the Vulture in this version.

But context matters.
 
I'm with HareBrain. In this example, the second sounds like an omniscent narrator and it is not known whether Kenny even knows about the vulture. How well can he even look up if he is buried up to his head in sand?

(and I just have to add that with the name Kenny he just has to be killed... I'm sure there's a million YouTube montages of "They killed Kenny!"
 
I think your analysis regarding distance and emphasis is technically correct but in this particular case it seems to make very little difference. If anything, I slightly prefer the first version because, with the shorter first sentence, it gives me a greater sense of urgency.

Okay, this is a big one that I 100% agree with and can't believe I didn't think of. Short transitional sentences really do add a sense of urgency and things are about to go down to me.
 
Version 1
A vulture circled silently in the cloudless blue sky. He--- gripped the spoon more tightly in his mouth and began scooping the sand away from his head with renewed vigor.

Version 2
A vulture circled silently in the cloudless blue sky. Kenny gripped the spoon more tightly in his mouth and began scooping the sand away from his head with renewed vigor.

As you can see the only difference between these is the name(Kenny)--that first bit of He looked up is a given in each from the POV Unless there were more to establish that one of them is from a distant omniscient POV.

Now as wordy as I get if you want to show a difference in the writing...

The incessant circling of the vulture, round and round, would create a vast headache had he not many other means for that. The grinding of the spoon between his teeth echoed through his skull, jarred the cathedral of his brain. The taste of dirt and the movement of his head back and forth, up and down, in a vigorous effort to keep from suffocating, all made it abundantly clear he'd no time to take up birdwatching.

Yes, I think he might be a bit too busy for noticing that bird up there.
 
I think that both are 'showing' rather than telling. The appearance of the vulture makes Kenny concerned that his end may be near. Neither specifically states this, or even confirms that he has seen the vulture.

Either way, I would consider using a snake or scorpion or suchlike for the hazard. Apparently vultures don't circle dying prey, and something circling above his head is unlikely to be seen by a man up to his neck in sand.
 
I don't feel a lot of difference in the original two lines. For me, the first version worked better as a close third person perspective; the circling vulture is putting into the context of what Kenny is seeing. The second seemed more like an omniscient person, where someone external to Kenny is describing the soaring vulture and Kenny's actions.

I felt both succeeded in showing not telling in that neither ever said that Kenny was buried neck deep. As a reader, I felt an 'Oh, wow' moment when I read about him scooping the sand away from his head. That is what grabbed my attention far more than any of the preceding text.
 
Version 2 feels like it has more narrative distance to me, but I agree with those who've said it probably doesn't make that much difference in this particular example.

My issue was that my initial impression was of a man digging out somebody else with his bare hands, and had a spoon in his mouth for some unknown reason. I had to read it several times to understand what was happening. But I'm sure if I had more context I wouldn't have been confused.
 
Neither feels like telling to me. As to which is better, I think it depends on what you want to accomplish with the sentence. Do you just want to show what's happening or do you want to create tension by putting the emphasis on Kenny's actions? Version 2 gives us a picture, but it doesn't give a connection between the vulture and Kenny. Kenny gripping the spoon tighter might have had nothing to do with the presence of the vulture. It's more a statement of facts: there is a vulture and Kenny is digging himself out with a spoon. With Version 1, however, we get the connection and that builds a greater sense of urgency.

I also agree with the others. Version 2 feels more distant to me also while version 1 drops me in the heart of the scene.

I think there is place for both styles and mixing them is a better choice than sticking to just one or the other.
 
Kenny looked up. A vulture circled silently in the cloudless blue sky. He gripped the spoon more tightly in his mouth and began scooping the sand away from his head with renewed vigor.

Version 2
A vulture circled silently in the cloudless blue sky. Kenny gripped the spoon more tightly in his mouth and began scooping the sand away from his head with renewed vigor.

Not sure this is exactly what you're looking for, but I'd argue that both examples have a ton of telling.

Adverbs. Kill the adverbs.

"The ticking shadow of a vulture circled overhead. Kenny's mouth held the spoon like it was the last thing he'd ever hold. He scooped sand away from his head, the hourglass grains counting down in sync with the winged threat looming in the sky."

Something like that, maybe?
 
Not sure this is exactly what you're looking for, but I'd argue that both examples have a ton of telling.

Adverbs. Kill the adverbs.

"The ticking shadow of a vulture circled overhead. Kenny's mouth held the spoon like it was the last thing he'd ever hold. He scooped sand away from his head, the hourglass grains counting down in sync with the winged threat looming in the sky."

Something like that, maybe?
You like version 2, I take it.
 
Hmm, the ol' show versus tell dogma...

I think there can be some tightening and reduction of word count, but as far as telling vs showing goes, just remember you'll hear that a lot more from writers, than readers. That and adverbs. Too much On Writing. However, that advice comes from a genuine place -- too many adverbs make everything sound naïve and wide-eyed to my mind. As far as the show vs tell goes; I often feel the examples people speak of are nonsense and may not themselves understand what show vs tell actually means. Hint: it doesn't mean don't do any telling. Also, if you show all the time, you risk an unecessarily bloated word count.

My version (without changing your author's voice) would read:

A silent vulture circled above him/Kenny in a cloudless (blue) sky. He gripped the spoon tighter, scooping the sand away from around his head with renewed vigor.
 

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