Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Show vs. Tell: The Voice Issue

Greater persons than I had a great idea the other day. As a result, several of us Purgatorians have decided to blog about this most interesting topic today, that being the epic Show vs. Tell debate.

Now, anyone who's even thought about writing has had this driven into their skulls. Show, don't tell! It's enough that even the sound of an "sh" can give a writer a nervous twitch.

And then someone will inevitably come along and say "But wait! Telling isn't always bad!" At which point, the writer will drop their computer out a seventh story window and go into advanced underwater basket weaving.

So, as a boon to all writer-kind, I am here to offer an example of just WHEN telling is ok.

When debating over a show vs. a tell, think, "What exactly is my voice?" No, not you great sopranos out there, whom I shall always envy. The voice of your writing. There may be moments when showing just doesn't fit!

Follow the bouncing ball for an example:

The tavern fell silent when the dark man entered. Gazes dropped to their drinks and conversations stilled as he passed. He took the seat in the farthest corner, and it seemed even the lights dimmed for his passing.

Sounds like a scary dude, right? Now, look at this same thing in a different voice:

It got real quiet when the dude walked into the room, and I could tell that he was a bad mamma jamma.

Not nearly as poetic, but depending on the book you're writing, it might be much more appropriate. The writing techniques you choose will vary greatly depending on your voice. Your epic fantasy about the farmboy saving the world will most likely sound very different than your urban fantasy about the hard-bitten, hard-drinking ex-satyr PI. (Hmm, not a bad idea if I do say so myself)

And, even as I write all this out, I have to insert the standard disclaimer: Your mileage may vary. If we had absolutes in this business, it'd be math.

Here are a few others who had thoughts on the subject, so have fun wandering through other minds today too!

Dee Garretson
Bryn Greenwood
Gretchen McNeil
Amy Bai
Wendy Cebula
Tracy Martin


WendyCinNYC said...

Nice job explaining show v. tell! I feel smarter already.

Anonymous said...

Great points on how to get voice into the telling! I want to read more of both.

sunna said...

Great post, Kari!

Anonymous said...

Great example, short and to the point. And I like the ex-satyr PI, hmm....

J.F. Posthumus said...

Ditto what the others said, and loved the examples.

You did a great job explaining when telling really IS ok...

now all us poor writers have to do is figure out which is best for what... easier said than done? ;)

Anonymous said...

And once you nail the voice for a piece, it really does become simpler to make decisions like that. You can hear your narrator.

Now...how does one become an "ex-satyr"?

Gretchen said...

Love that you tied voice to the show vs. tell debate. Again, not something I consciously think about, but definitely something I'm going to pay more attention to in my own writing!

houndrat said...

Is it wrong if I vote for the bad mamma jamma? I've just never seen that phrase in print before. :)

Seriously, though--nice post. Great point about voice being a factor!

sue laybourn said...

Again another great example and I also appreciate bringing voice in as yet another factor.

BeshterBooks said...

BRILLIANT! This is so very hard for me at times, and I love your analogy, mamma jamma! *Grin*