Wednesday, January 4, 2017

IWSG - Why "Show Don't Tell" is a confusing rule.


It's the first Wednesday of the month. Time for Alex J. Cavanaugh's Insecure Writer's Support Group Post. IWSG is a safe place for writers to get together, share our insecurities, and offer feedback and support.

Click !!!HERE!!! to join. 

In the past I thought show don't tell meant more dialogue, less exposition. My first two books are packed with conversations. 

I get it. When exposition sounds bad it roars like your drunk Uncle Steve at a karaoke bar. Exposition as backstory is like medicating your child who is a touch hyperactive. What was once an exuberant child is now a drooling overmedicated fat kid. Exposition can slow down and anchor a plot. Why put a torpedo bra on something that's already nicely shaped?

Inversely, exposition can be artfully done when you show don't tell.

But, we're storytelling. As storytellers being told "show don't tell" can be a bit confusing.

An example:
telling: Voodoo dolls lined the wall of the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge.
showing: Inside the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge dolls made of Spanish moss, dark twigs, and clay heads wrapped in paisley cloth stuck with multi-colored pins covered the wall facing the street.

Show don't tell simply means, don't be so damn lazy. When it comes to 'the rules of writing' I tend to overcomplicate what isn't complicated. Does anyone else do that?

Do you have a beef the show don't tell rule? 

8 comments:

  1. I show AND tell because both have a time and place. :)

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    1. Thanks Chrys! I believe we all do, but I try to show when writing exposition as much as possible.

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  2. No beef with the rule. Changing a sentence from tell to show adds depth to the reader's experience, without shouting at them (your example illustrates this well.) Going from tell to show takes a bit of work, though, and it is sometimes difficult to know when tell works better than show.

    Happy New Year!

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    1. Agreed! It is hard to tell in those rare instances when telling is better than showing. Happy New Year Gail!

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  3. I'm not going to follow a rule that I know can't be absolute. Telling also has it's place. You have been checked by a co-host.

    QueendSheena
    2017 IWSG January Co-Host

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    1. Is there such a thing as absolutes in art? I agree that telling has its place, but showing does take more work. The point of this post was to explain why the show don't tell rule can be confusing.

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  4. Agree its hard to tell when trying to get the right balance.
    Happy New Year.
    Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

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    1. Having an ear for it is indeed a talent. Happy New Year!

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