I know I've been encouraging the banishment of telling and replacing it with showing. However, since then, I've come to a conclusion.
Telling is okay. Under certain conditions.
Why? Why? Why, Abby, would you say such a dastardly thing? I'm sure that's what you're moaning.
And it's because Jeff Gerke's book is just another person opinions on writing. As far as the technical things go in his book, they're not rules. They're suggestions. They're tools to help you write. And you only use those tools as you need them.
Telling is okay.....
if it's done masterfully.
Telling is a form of writing itself...
And writing is a form of art.
Read Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series. There is a whole lot of telling in those books.
But he tells well. He does it artfully.
Like this passage. From, The Mauritius Command:
Insensibly, the lubberly part of Boadicea's crew began to resemble sailormen as the unchanging naval routine came to be their only real way of life, a life in which it was natural and inevitable that all hands should be piped just before eight bells in the middle watch and that the sleepers should start from heir hammocks to the muster and then to the scrubbing decks in the first light of dawn; that all hands should be piped to dinner at eight bells in the forenoon watch, that this dinner should consist of cheese and duff on Monday, two pounds of salt beef on Tuesday, dried peas and duff on Wednesday, one pound of salt pork on Thursday, dried peas and cheese on Friday, two more pounds of salt beef on Saturday, a pound of salt pork and some such treat as figgy-dowdy on Sunday, always accompanied by a daily pound of biscuit; that at one bell dinner should be followed by a pint of grog; that after supper (with another pint of grog) all hands should repair to their action-stations at the beat of the drum, and that eventually hammocks should be piped down so that the watch below might have four hours of sleep before being roused again at midnight for another spell on deck. This and the perpetual living movement of the deck underfoot, and the dight of nothing but the Atlantic Ocean clear round the horizon, nothing but endless sea and sky, cut them off from land so completely that it seemed another world, with no immediacy at all, and they adopted the values of the sea.
All telling, but his style of writing is amazing. And the telling works.
Or this little section, which I thought hilarious:
The ritual offerings appeared, brought in by a black boy in a turban, and Jack and Clonfert were left alone: a certain awkwardness became manifest at once. With advancing years, Jack had learnt the value of silence in a situation were he did not know what to say. Clonfert, though slightly older in spite of his youthful appearance, had not, and he talked - these baubles were from his Syrian campaign with Sir Sydney - the lamp a present from Dgezzar Pasha - the scimitar on the right from the Maronite Patriarch - he had grown so used to Eastern ways that he could no do without his sofa. Would not the Commodore sit down? The Commodore had no notion of lowering himself to within inches of the deck - what could he do with his legs? - and replied that he should as soon keep an eye on the Boadicea's boats as they pulled briskly between the arsenal and the frigate, filling her magazines and shot-lockers with what he hoped would prove a most persuasive argument.
That could totally have been shown. But he told it. And it still worked, I think. That was how he wanted to tell the story, after all.
Telling is a style of writing. And it can be done. And it's okay.
I agree, some things ought to be shown and not told. I'm not doing a 180 and saying to tell everything.
But not everything needs to be shown, okay??
Look at this section I used in yesterday's post:
He was not in the least surprised when suddenly there was a little bird in a nearby tree singing with him. Chance saluted jauntily to it, “Good morning to you, fine bird. I suppose I'm the first person you've seen today. This is quite a lonely road here, eh?" The bird twittered back, and Chance continued a conversation with it until his feet carried him out of sight of the tree. Then, about an hour before noon, he came upon a sign: terfey, 15 miles. Well! Chance looked at it with a sigh of relief; only fifteen miles more.
From there on, he began to see signs of people: off the road and down a hill there was a little village, reminding Chance of Betony. He glanced at it wistfully, then stoically set his face ahead. He passed a man who was leading a donkey hitched to a cart; they shared a brief greeting in the passing.
Then a short time later, from behind him Chance heard footsteps. He glanced back and saw a young man strolling down the road, hands swinging freely, head high. Chance slowed his pace slightly so the other traveler could catch up to him. He was gratified when shortly after, he felt the presence of the other man very close behind him. Chance met his eye. “Hello there!" The other man's eyes twinkled with a curious glow, and he returned the greeting readily. “Hello, young sir! It's a fine day for a long walk, indeed." The other man was perhaps twenty, but he looked not much older to Chance's eye. ....
That middle paragraph is all telling. Now, perhaps if you were critiquing this, you would come back to tell me to show it instead.
But I don't want to. You know why?
Look at the third paragraph. I didn't include the whole scene here, but that scene is all shown. And that's the important scene. I wanted the reader to know everything that happens in the second paragraph. But I also wanted to put the emphasis on what happens in the third paragraph and after. Hence, I told the second paragraph and showed the third. It's how I wanted to write the story. It's my piece of artwork, after all.
And if you stop and think about, you might see that the telling there is okay.
Does that make sense?
And I realize that this, like Jeff Gerke's book, is merely my opinion. But I hope that even if you don't agree with me, you understand.
So, that said... when you see telling, try to see it as art, not always as something to be eliminated.
Well, that's my two cents on that whole deal... thanks for bearing with me :)
(PS the screenwriting post is coming, I promise!!)