Telling is easy, showing is hard

Kill me now. Right fucking now. Alright, wait a moment, but just a moment. Have that shiv ready.

I’ve said it before. As have a million bloody armchair writer/teachers. I’ve said it to myself a dozen-fifty times. The truth is: this is a truth that never stops being true.

And you can beat your head against it, and wrestle with it, but the bottom line always comes down to the fact that the best stories go the distance, spend the effort, take the time to show the reader and not tell the reader.

Everyone died.
The end.

There. The ultimate “telling” story line.

What more do you need, really, to get the point across about this story? If that’s all you wanted to convey, the fact that “everyone died,” then you’re done.

But if you want to entertain, and here, I think, is the crux of the matter, if you want to entertain a reader then you must lead them purposefully on a storytime journey.

Yeah your story is complex and the physics and chemistry and technology and geology and climate and every gottdamned natural (or unnatural aspect) is integral to your story and you just have to get that knowledge into the reader… Or do you? Maybe it’s our assumptions about what WE, the writer think is important — just isn’t.

And if it is, then the information should must come from one of the characters. If the CHARACTER thinks it’s important to dwell upon, then that must be the test as to whether the reader should dwell upon it too.

Phil says: get out of the damn way and let the story tell the story.

But it’s so much damn work. Christ on a swizzel-stick, can’t I just TELL the reader some stuff? Sure, but apparently only, like .004% of your story should be of the flavor, “And so it transpired, Job felt he must succumb to his wife’s beatings, lest his lord think him a braggart and a louse of the lowest level.”

Showing is work. Telling is not. But telling is not entertaining. Showing, reader discovery through envisioned settings, behavior and events — is. Sorry.

So, get back to work you mewling Mole!



5 thoughts on “Telling is easy, showing is hard

  1. Having just encountered this and fixed it myself (narration as placeholder) I will say this. Often the only difference between narrating backstory/story push is a set of quotation marks, a location and a wing person with ears. I cannot begin to point those out to you by the gazillions in any genre you wish save textbooks. Therein lies the “story.” As you suggest, people like to hear their characters talk, not us. ‘How’ is a simple matter of how much you dress the set, and how you choose to show your telling. A LOT of authors put characters in a booth or office or similar and get the story, the clues, the backstory, the triggers from one or more enthusiastic to open up bit players. Some overdress the set, some build a 30 pound book out of five pounds of story with ‘research’, social and cultural and political opinions and history/travelogs of location all bleeding into each other like an overwet canvas. That are then tied up neatly with long explanatory letters by the escapees or oops, we’re in international waters, nothing we can do now, no moral dilemma here. Or you can go for buckets of clever dystopian technologies and machismo and forget the human aspect, the story becoming a vehicle for writerly cleverness. Regardless, all of those antics have a fan base, pick one. Or, don’t be a writer, let your story tell itself.
    There is a story about the chapter just put up on THG3. I could have said “a bunch of high class hookers pulled Jackson out of the Sea Wind, set him up.” How does that help? Who wants to read that? Even two pages of how they did it as narrative wouldn’t work, although I’ve seen it done. Even in my laziest moments I don’t want that, I want a story. I want to go places, hear people talk, hear the glasses clink, listen to the engines and the dishwasher and the music…which only happens when I let the story drive. In truth THAT’S lazy, because I needn’t be clever or erudite except as the story demands. Give me a professor who talks paintings it might say. Okay. Give me a cinder block gas station, a packed Taco Bell, a nomadic tent…Let your story put you in places, and if you find that you must be clever or tell something, find a clever and talkative character like so many others, myself included, to do it for you. Quotation marks, short speaker descriptions, location, action.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > Some overdress the set, some build a 30 pound book out of five pounds of story with ‘research’
      James A Michener!

      Alright. So, /becoming/ the lazy writer, where the showing of a story becomes second nature, you have to admit that is one elusive goal. That’s the prodigy coming home and lounging on his chaise lounge, jotting perfect prose.
      The rest of us struggle with wanting to dunk the reader in a paint bucket of our alter-reality, versus having to stroke the reader with artistic swipes of Bob-Rossian fan brushes. (Face it, Ross could tell a visual story in a frickin’ flash!)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I made DVD copies of the Bob Ross VHS tapes, just because the guy was a self editing master. (And was eassily one of the most entertaining things on PBS in the afternoon for creative stoners.) He could turn a mistake into a “happy accident” and well, we needed trees there anyway, didn’t we. I think that was his way of saying the painting had a mind of it’s own, get out the way and go with it. Michelangelo said the sculture was already inside the block of granite. His job was to let it out. Even our alter realties exist without coercion, dreams are seldom manipulated, the cosmic stream runs on. All we need to do is, picture Tom or Huck here, dangle our feet in the river and let it tell us a story. And here’s a truth – if your story thinks you unworthy it will move on. If it hangs around it’s waiting for you to snap and let it out.

        Liked by 1 person

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