Saturday, December 18, 2010

Telling Should Not Be Banished

I could also title this post, "Writing Is An Art." But "Telling Should Not Be Banished" was more catchy. Anyway...

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!!)

16 comments:

Jake said...

Ahh...Director, ye are not speaking of...hm. Perhaps the right term would be prose? *shrug* Prose always needs to be told--like how someone is feeling. But the particular instance you just pointed out was summary. Not regular prose. :) Summary always 'tells'. Thought I'd point that out. ;)

Son of the King said...

@ The Director,

Interesting point of view!

~Son of the King~
(Will be writing with my head in the clouds)

The Director said...

Perhaps you're right, Jake. *goes and thinks*

Thanks, SotK

Jake said...

O_o Another two things. ;) Those two sections? The telling in there was either description or summary. ;) Which means...well, telling is 'OK' in description and summary. :)

Amaranthine said...

XD stop deleting posts!

The Director said...

Amaranthine:
I know, I know! XD Sorry, I did it on accident lol....

what? how many other posts have I deleted?? o_O

Everyone's Favorite Composer said...

That's handy dandy!

My English teacher has been discussing this stuff with us.

I actually re-started my Civil War-ish novel, by the way. I'll send you the first part once I'm satisfied. I've been trying to balance my showing and my telling. I've found it to be quite surprisingly similar to composing. In composing, you need to balance the melody (in this case showing) and the harmony (telling), and in some cases counter-melody (umm, dialogue?). Does that make sense? Also, like you say, It's got to be done right in order for it to sound good. We can't have a clash, now, can we?

Millard of Swiftstorm said...

@The Director, I love that book ;)

Regardless of you're right or not...
"And it's because Jeff Gerke's book is just another person opinions on writing." Ahhh quite wrong. He's a published author, an editor, and owns his own publishing company. His aren't the run of the mill opinions...He also knows what as a publisher he's looking for.

Also, Mr. Gerke doesn't eliminate all telling, remember the bank account analogy?(Perhaps she hasn't got that far?)

"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."

That's how *he* wanted it. And he happened to get published. Bad writing is published each year. It will continue to get published. *shrugs* But that's not the point.

Telling is a style, but I think it's a harder style to read, less interesting, more dry, and totally DULL sometimes!

About your sections. Actually, the break isn't as clearly defined as you might want it.
First paragraph, a sentence before it ends:Telling.

"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"

Third paragraph: "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."

Description mixed with telling.



Now since you aren't avoiding telling...make sure you get that 'emphasis' right. Though, where do you get the idea that you can show emphasis this way? *is curious*

"It's how I wanted to write the story. It's my piece of artwork, after all."

I totally agree, just remember, a story has it's value in reading. It depends on if you're writing for personal gratification in and out itself, or if you are writing to have it read.



Anyway, hope this post isn't too anti your blog post ;) It really woke me up reading this morning!

Thanks
Millard

The Director said...

@EFC
That's cool! And about your story-- hand it over! Hee hee....

@Millard
I had a feeling we wouldn't see eye to eye on this one... you weren't being too rude or anything, don't worry :)
I forgot that Mr. Gerke's a publisher guy... but still, what he's looking for as a publisher is are still his own opinions. Just sayin'...
Hmph, I'll let that jab at O'Brian's writing slide..... I'm not in the mood to argue the point right now :P

I'll explain myself concerning emphasis over on the UG or something.

Thanks for politely disagreeing :)

-TD

Jake said...

Heh, I'd like to talk about this on your writing thread if possible. :) Because I as well politely disagree with ye on some points. XD Good sport, lass! *goes to the UG*

The Director said...

Please do, Jake. I'll be waiting on the UG!

Millard of Swiftstorm said...

Hehe, Oh that's what she meant by debate on the UG..Aha! Me and Jake will gang up on the lass ;)

Remember, we aren't trying to box your writing, just make it the best we see it can be.

Millard

The Director said...

No hard feelings, Mil :) I like debating, anyway.
I understand your intentions... no worries! *waits on UG*

Polka Dot said...

I agree, it has been done very well. For instance: Tolkien "told" a LOT.

The Director said...

You're so right, Polka Dot ;)

I <3 Tolkien ;)

Millardthemk said...

A note about Tolkien, that's true. That's also why quite a few people have *not* read it. Not saying it's a bad book(though I have strong feelings about it) but it's not as accessible as it could be. That was the accepted style of the day for writing. It's also third person omnipresent last time I checked. (Tries to remember)