Mar 13, 2009

Showing vs. Telling

Now we are not talking about your Kindergarten version of Show and Tell here kids, BUT it is a great way to start explaining my struggle. Let us see if I have the concept straight. I'll let you be the judge! Throw on your imagination caps people. I'm about to make you think! (Oh stop moaning and groaning. Even grown ups need to use their imaginations once in awhile!)

Picture this! (Ok, now I have a Verve Pipe song in my head. At least it is a good one!)

Five year old Marybeth brings her favorite stuffed animal to school one day, Donkey. (Now there is nothing wrong with loving a jack ass kids. If you've met my husband you'd realize I'm quite fond of them! Just kidding husband, I love you!) Little Tommy is blind (UPDATE: His eyes were recently damaged by a large Magnext Roller Coaster piece. Thus he COULD see before the accident!) and can not see the pet Donkey visibly and feels a little left out. So sweet little Marybeth, with her curls
bopping up and down in pig tails tied up by fuzzy blue ribbons, wants Tommy to see Donkey. Unfortunately all she has is her words.

She can do one of two things at this point. She can Show with her words or she can Tell. Up until VERY recently I was not aware that there was a difference. And here I sit, my soar back propped up on my wicker stool, wanting to verify that I understand the concept. This is the part where you swoop in with your knowledge and tell me. Have I succeeded, or do I need to do a bit more research?


Marybeth TELLS Tommy

"This is my favorite pet Donkey! He looks like a donkey decorated for Christmas."

Marybeth SHOWS Tommy

"This is Donkey! My Grammy gave him to me last Christmas as a gift. We do not get to see Grammy often, so I sleep with Donkey every night to remember her. He is grey with black hooves and a BIG nose. He also has large teeth and smiles at me. Sometimes I think he wants to talk to me. He even has a red fuzzy Santa Clause hat on top of his little floppy ears."


So how did I do? Was it enough? Was it too much?

Don't be shy now. I want to hear it all. After all, I am preparing myself for all the rejection that comes with sending out query letters!! So give it to me straight.


Brian said...

It's hard to say...cuz if Tommy has always been blind then he has no concept of colors...he does know textures though.

Marybeth said...

Nice...well I suppose I should have considered that. Let's pretend he just had is eyes poked out by his older brother with his Magnext Roller Coaster! Now could you answer the question?

Brian said...

what was the question? j/k you did a good job

Jenny Penny said...

Hmn. I think you're getting there.

In your showing example, the physical descriptions of donkey are extraneous to what's really being revealed to the reader (and Tommy is just a blind tool along for the ride, which is fine): I mean, what's being revealed to the reader, what you're SHOWING the reader, is that this little girl (1) loves/misses her grandma and (2) is imaginative. In other words, the TELLING version of this passage would actually read more like this: "Marybeth was a very imaginative child. She didn't get to see her grandma very often, so every night she slept with a pet donkey her Grandma had given her."

P.S. Instead of telling me, "I'm funny!" you are showing me that you're funny, with your husband/jackass remark.

Jenny Penny said...

P.P.S. By telling us that Tommy was recently blinded by his brother with a Magnext Roller Coaster, you are SHOWING us something about Tommy's brother. Could he be diabolical? a klutz? angry at Tommy about something?


Marybeth said...

So in other words I'm leaving the object/person/situation up for interpretation? Are you saying that physical appearances do not necessarily matter?

Lisa said...

Ah yes, so many people are much more apt to tell than show with their words. You did a good job. I'd say we all need to be more creative with how we measure things though. Big/large, that's relative to the person's own interpretation. You and Tommy may have a different take on what would be a BIG nose. Tommy was able to see before, so you can reference something he would be able to recall from memory or give him a visual based on something he may be able to touch. So maybe sweet Marybeth's donkey doesn't have a BIG nose, but a nose the size of a Coke can.

T. Anne said...

Very close. Maybe right in the context of a novel. Two scenerios would be perfect. Nice blog!

Jenny Penny said...

No, it's not that appearances don't necessarily matter. It's nice to have physical descriptions -- of settings, of people -- all that. It adds texture. But as with real life, what people are saying is rarely the meat of what's being said. And in writing, you can really have fun with this aspect of the way people communicate. Just think: If someone TELLS you that he's not a racist, that he even has a black friend, that he even let the black janitor at his child's school use his cell phone once, what he's really SHOWING you is the kind of person he is. And if you were writing about this person, you wouldn't say, "Frank was a racist without knowing it." You would tell the story about Frank and how he brags about his one black friend the time he let the black janitor use his cell phone.

I tell you, it can be really fun to rewrite a telling passage into a showing one. Just take one tiny aspect of something you've written and try it. I think you'll enjoy it, because it really brings a story to life!

Jenny Penny said...

Oh, and I also agree about the comment on the big nose versus the nose that's the size of a Coke can. For one thing, it eliminates vagueness, but it's also just more interesting to use imagery like that. Here's from a book I was reading today: "Her open eye was like nearly black balsamic vinegar beading on white china." Waaaay more interesting to me than just saying she had one darkly colored eye wide open!

Marybeth said...

At what point am I OVER Doing the "showing" aspect though? Do I really want to go over every single page and add an extra paragraph for each sentence where I told you that she was beautiful? Granted I'm having quite a bit of fun, but I'm not sure I was prepared to double the word count in my novel ;)