Showing vs. Telling

Oy, Monday morning and I'm tired already. If I didn't have my student observer and a parent conference today....

I received a critique back not too long ago and on the sentence, "She leaned forward, intrigued," I got the comment that this was telling. in particularly the word "intrigued." Now for those of you who don't know, Telling Is Bad. Yes, there are instances when you have to tell so you cna kind of get on with the story, but I'm wondering why my little innocent word was telling. Anyone know?

On the other hand, I read a book recently (a 2006 book) where more than half of it was telling - even some of the dialogue! Stuff like, "She told them she would meet them...yadda yadda." If I hadn't known the show vs. tell rule, I might have enjoyed the book more. As it was, I was thinking, "Doesn't she know she can expand this, and it will be much more interesting AND she'll have more words?" Because as interesting as the story was, I could not root for the character because I wasn't inside her head.

Craft show rundown: Had $115. Bought a rhino tile, a rhino stamp, a bluebonnet little dish, a silver choker that you can hang different charms from, a pretty paper towel holder for my classroom, an Africa charm for my writing charm bracelet, funnel cake and three sodas (not all for me.) Have....$30, I think. I hope.

Writing rundown: I'm back on DLB and I'm 20,000 words short after cutting two major action scenes. I have no idea where those 20,000 words are going to go.

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J.F. Cossey said...

OK, Mary... instead of "intrigued" you might have described the look on her face as she leaned in or something... that's how I would see "showing" vs "telling." YAY on your editing!! OK 20 000 words? Well really you know, it's possible to get those back in there. Just what we mentioned above, for example. If you were to insert more descriptions (if you thought you needed them, mind), you'd definitely fill up the space! Not having read your book, I'm ONLY going on what you said here, not telling you outright what you need to do.

ps/ Congratulations, I hadn't realized (having been away for so long) that you finalled in the GH this year!! I HOPE YOU WIN!

J.F. Cossey said...

ps/ WHOA... Gerard is baaaaack I see!

Paula said...

I have to say, "She leaned forward, intrigued" sounds perfectly descriptive to me. For you to "show' her intrigue, you'd have to say something like "She leaned forward, her brow crinkling," which is, frankly, both cliche and overkill. Intrigued is a perfectly acceptable adjective to describe (i.e. "show") her state of mind.

Every single sentence of your story doesn't have to be "shown." Some things are more accurately and economically "told" than "shown." For instance, if your character going down a long corridor from one room to another, and nothing happens during that long walk, do you really have to show her walking down the corridor? Of course not. You just tell that she crossed the long corridor to the other room and leave it at that.

Part of writing is knowing when it's better to show and when it's better to tell. In the example you gave, I think the economy of words, and the vivid adjective "intrigued" make it the best choice to get across your point in the story. More words don't necessarily paint a more accurate mental picture.

Shesawriter said...


Having her lean forward IS showing. It's body language. When someone is interested they lean forward. And tacking on "intrigued" just completes it.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like you had a good time at the Craft Show ;)

Stacy Dawn said...

I agree, I have no problem with that sentence.

Sounds like you had a great time!

Jill Monroe said...

You know Mary, I think this is a really good observation - does anyone ever get tired of constant showing? Is there too much showing?

Paula said...

Jill, I think too much showing can be mind-numbing. There are things that are important to show, and things that aren't. "Show, don't tell" is a nice pithy way of saying that you need your book to have action and immediacy. But that doesn't mean you have to reveal every single step taken, every thought, or every expression a character makes.

Subtext is your friend.

Toni Anderson said...

You can't describe her face if she's the POV character either. Well you can describe her actions, like frowned, but if you go into detail--you've slipped out of POV.

I agree--a balance of showing and telling is required. Mostly showing the important stuff and telling the information to get them where they are going--like down that long boring corridor with all the doors ala Paula.

Dana Pollard said...

It is hard for me to read a book like a reader now. The writer in my tends to critique her work, and I hate it! I used to LOVE a very popular author, now I can't read her books without wanting to throw them across the room.

Not fair, they can break 'the rules', but we can't.

Nikki said...

I agree with everyone else - completely harmless sentence!

I had NOOOO idea you finalled either. Congratulations!!!!!!! Am going to look up the list right now ..

Trish said...

I wouldn't worry about that critique Mary. I don't think alot of judges really understand what show don't tell means. Or how to impliment it.

MJFredrick said...

Thanks, Jessie! Right now I'm going through it again and looking for those places. Then I thought about splitting up one scene I've written into two, with a sequel scene in between. Thanks for the GH congratulations! And yeah, Gerry is the inspiration for DLB. (If I win, I'm going to thank him!)

Thanks, Paula. I think "intrigued" is a suitable word, and I like the way it sounds (weird, I know.) And I noticed what you're talking about when I was going over DLB last night - some stuff just needs to be told. We just don't care to see it!

Thanks, Tanya, Theresa and Stacy!

Bonnie, it was so much fun. Sad thing is that we look forward to it, and then are ready to leave after a few hours because it's so HOT!

Jill, I think finding..not the balance, but you know what I mean, is a trait of good story telling. And tricky. Did I mention tricky?

Paula, I love that - "Subtext is your friend." I want to be good at subtext!

Dana, no kidding about not being able to enjoy books. "I would have done it..." and "Look, she...." just pop up all over the place!

Nikki, thank you! I'm just thrilled!

Delle Jacobs said...

Mary, I'll agree that using the word "intrigued" in this case is probably "Telling, not Showing". BUT it depends on the Point of View.

I'f John is watching her as she leans forward, he doesn't actually know she is intrigued. He makes that assumption based on what he sees. What he sees is what you Show. But if you tell the readers she is intrigued, then that's what you're doing: Telling.

On the other hand, if your writing from her POV, then she knows more about what she's thinking than how she looks. People just don't think about their brow movements. But they are aware of their thoughts. So maybe it's not pure SDT, but it makes much more sense to me.

But you know what? I think only contest jobs and harried contest entrants really give a fig about SDT. Go read what the editors are buying. It doesn't seem to matter to them!


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