Tell and Action

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bcomet
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Tell and Action

Post by bcomet » August 6th, 2011, 1:41 pm

I am wondering how other writers here balance the amount of tell and action (show and tell, I know, but I like the word action better because it triggers what needs to happen for me).

I currently am working on a novel where part of it is told first person through the main character who is reflective in a sort of memoir way in between the action. Also, a few paragraphs of tell can move a story forward to when and where the action is important (more important) rather than spending a lot of writing moving the plot forward.

I know this has been discussed in the past in a few places, but would appreciate and enjoy hearing from any who wants to chime in again!

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polymath
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by polymath » August 6th, 2011, 2:25 pm

I identify tell as recital given through a narrator's report. And show as imitation directly reporting consciously or nonconsciously perceived sensations of an immediate setting. Action in and of itself is difficult to distinguish from sensations, visual, aural, tactile, olfactory, and gustatory. Introspection, though thought, is nonetheless action. Conversation, dialogue, is aural as well as visual and tactile sensation action.

Action in the sense of DIANE'S SECRET is not so much physical properties of movement but in the sense of drama it's causation, tension, and antagonism, thus plot movement. By that definition, tell, recital, or diegesis then can be action, and conversely, show, imitation, or mimesis might not be action, especially when reporting sensations have little or no dramatic relevance to plot flow, i.e., causation, tension, or antagonism.

Description, Introspection, Action, Narration, Emotion, Sensation, Summarization, Exposition, Conversation, Recollection, Explanation, Transition, DIANE'S SECRET writing modes.
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by bcomet » August 6th, 2011, 5:51 pm

Hi Poly. I'm not familiar with that book. Who is the author?

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polymath
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by polymath » August 6th, 2011, 7:04 pm

DIANE'S SECRET is an acronym for mnemonic purposes, not a book. Description, Introspection, Action, Narration, Emotion, Sensation, Summarization, Exposition, Conversation, Recollection, Explanation, Transition, DIANE'S SECRET writing modes. Wkipedia has a topic page on fiction writing modes, similar concept. I've picked up odds and ends here and there and elsewhere incorporating and building on to others' writing mode discussions. When I dissect somone's writing, I distill the sentences and clauses into their distinguishable but indivisible writing modes. Very few sentences are purely one mode, often several. Description, for example, is often visual sensation reporting with emotional context.

Though I am working on a Theory of Story that defines the fundamental elements of narrative and their purposes and complications: mechanical style, craft, voice; SPICED, Setting, Plot, Idea, Character, Event, and Discourse; causation, tension, antagonism; features of plot milestones; structure and aesthetics; DIANE'S SECRET; narrative distance, theme, and attitude; and their overlaps. Altogether, it's a braided labyinthine scatter plot that I'm attempting to organize into a logic tree.
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by GKJeyasingham » August 6th, 2011, 8:06 pm

polymath wrote:DIANE'S SECRET is an acronym for mnemonic purposes, not a book. Description, Introspection, Action, Narration, Emotion, Sensation, Summarization, Exposition, Conversation, Recollection, Explanation, Transition, DIANE'S SECRET writing modes. Wkipedia has a topic page on fiction writing modes, similar concept. I've picked up odds and ends here and there and elsewhere incorporating and building on to others' writing mode discussions. When I dissect somone's writing, I distill the sentences and clauses into their distinguishable but indivisible writing modes. Very few sentences are purely one mode, often several. Description, for example, is often visual sensation reporting with emotional context.

Though I am working on a Theory of Story that defines the fundamental elements of narrative and their purposes and complications: mechanical style, craft, voice; SPICED, Setting, Plot, Idea, Character, Event, and Discourse; causation, tension, antagonism; features of plot milestones; structure and aesthetics; DIANE'S SECRET; narrative distance, theme, and attitude; and their overlaps. Altogether, it's a braided labyinthine scatter plot that I'm attempting to organize into a logic tree.
That's a very useful acronym, polymath. I'm amazed that you're able to take each sentence of a manuscript and identify them like that. Then again, maybe that's what we need to do when we edit - see what purpose(s) each sentence serves, and adjust accordingly.

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polymath
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by polymath » August 6th, 2011, 8:15 pm

GKJeyasingham wrote:That's a very useful acronym, polymath. I'm amazed that you're able to take each sentence of a manuscript and identify them like that. Then again, maybe that's what we need to do when we edit - see what purpose(s) each sentence serves, and adjust accordingly.
Yeah, edit mode for sure. Hunches something's not quite right frustrate me no end until I've diagnosed their causes. So, of course, I also diagram sentences' grammatical structures. Still edit mode. Draft writing, huh-uh, except for what my subconscious incorporates instinctively from what I've consciously learned, leaving off the edit mode until it's time for that.
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by bcomet » August 6th, 2011, 10:57 pm

Appreciations ahead,
Poly, and all the scholastic stuff too.
But, writers, how do you substitute your telling and showing or balance it????

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CharleeVale
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by CharleeVale » August 6th, 2011, 11:20 pm

I think Polymath's description is pretty much right on.

When I realize that I'm having my MC describe things as if they're on a shopping list, I know I telling. For example: We went to the store, and then came back. Then after twenty minutes of unloading the food, all of us decided to take a nap.m

I have to force myself to remember that even if your describing something briefly, the details (like polymath said) must be sensory. Was the trip to the store hot? How heavy were the bags that made them so exhausted. Little things that the reader can grab onto and feel.

Not sure if that's good advice, but it's all I've got. :D

CV

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polymath
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by polymath » August 6th, 2011, 11:50 pm

bcomet wrote:Appreciations ahead,
Poly, and all the scholastic stuff too.
But, writers, how do you substitute your telling and showing or balance it????
I ask whose viewpoint is on point. The narrator's? A viewpoint character's? What is the point? Or more to the point, who's expressing commentary? Or whose attitude is focal and as close to the immediate dramatic action as possible? A bit of narrator exposition, tell though artfully disguised, to open introductions is all but inevitable, but staying entirely or for very long in a narrator's perspective grows weary fast.

A narrator opens, say, with a physical description of a visual sensation reported as perceived by a viewpoint character, estranging the narrator so the viewpoint character's perspective predominates. The sensation causes the character to react, maybe with a thought, maybe an actual physical movement, maybe dialogue. The balance, as it were, varies the several writing modes, emphasizing dramatic action, sensation, conversation, emotion, and introspection.

Sixty burning candles on his birthday cake dripped wax. Sick tallow yellow pools flooded dayglo blue and pink and green icing islands. Maple Doolittle owned he wasn't gonna blow out the candles or eat that mess or celebrate this birthday. Nor one motherloving birthday more.

Then perhaps a bit of dialogue, say, from an exuberant grandneice urging Maple to make his birthday wish and blow out the candles against his will, but for the child's sake he acquiesces. That's another sensation that causes a reaction, and so on, following a causal-logical progression of cause and effect, action and reaction, with each effect-reaction becoming, in turn, a cause.
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by bcomet » August 7th, 2011, 1:19 am

Well that's boring. I'm thinking a bit more like 13 MOONS.

Anyway, not looking for bad in between, but for workable.

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Re: Tell and Action

Post by Watcher55 » August 7th, 2011, 8:25 am

If you've researched agents you may have noticed that that one of the big thing they look for is voice. I think voice is key when you're trying to balance show and tell, because voice is the element that "tells" the story. I have a couple of techniques I use. Segues at the either the beginning or the end of chapters/sections (consistency is the key):

The Summer was slow and hot, and the two Summer showers we had that year only turned the few remaining patches of green to brown. Karl did manage to get the bottle off of his nose, but not before Taylor called him a bottle-nose-dolphin. that name didn't fit, so by the time we went back to school, we had taken to calling him Flipper. We didn't know how much he hated being called Flipper until the new kid, who didn't know Karl's real name in the first place, shouted, "Hey Flipper" across the quad after Karl dropped his phone. [Summer's over and it's time to "show" the first fight of the semester]

If I have a lot of "tell" in the middle of a chapter, I break it up and scatter expostional phrases into the action:

Karl paced and cursed. He glared at the kid's money in his fist, then down at the bleeding kid... We knew what Karl was thinking. His mom had already lost their house, and someone had to replace his jeans before she found out...

All things in moderation - even telling. The trick is to maintain a consistent voice and make your "tells" part of your story.

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polymath
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by polymath » August 7th, 2011, 10:53 am

bcomet wrote:Well that's boring. I'm thinking a bit more like 13 MOONS.

Anyway, not looking for bad in between, but for workable.
I feel your frustration. Appreciating the more complex facets of writing are imposing, monumental edifices on the approach to understanding them, on the other side of enlightenment they are transparent whispering veils. Show and tell is three simple words but a mountain to climb, and no elevator to the top or someone else to carry the load. It's a poet's journey to make.

Start with something simple to access. Plumb its depths. Test its limits. Practice, apply what's learned along the way.

Tell's ancient from the time of the sophists term is diegesis: n. 1. A narrative or history; a recital or relation. Webster's Unabridged. Think family vacation slide show narration with the narrator telling what the slides are about and standing in front of the screen lecturing in a monotonous, emotionally flat recital of the barest meaningless facts and interposing digressive nonsense. This is Sally in front of the Fountain of Youth. To her right, your left, is James. The back of Bobby's head is barely visible on the far side of the fountain. That snapshot was taken just before it rained all weekend. Talk about boring. Next slide, please. Please. Please. When will it end?

Show's sophist's term is mimesis: n. 1. The imitation or representation of aspects of the sensible world, especially human actions, in literature and art. Webster's Unabridged. Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mimesis goes into more depth and compares and contrasts mimesis with diegesis. Watcher55 is spot on when he says voice makes a difference distinguishing show from tell, especially emotional attitude toward a topic, theme, or subject. And CharleeVale is also exact in that "shopping lists" are tells for their summarizations of emotionally meaningless details.

A single emotionally loaded word or rhetorical scheme different changes a tell into a show. They're not so far apart they're readily distinguishable anyway. In fact, they're identical on the surface, the de dicto or of the word meaning. Tell is often in summarization or explanation writing mode, or exposition in the sense of burdensome detail or backstory or setup or introduction. The diegesis example above is a summary of the more apparent subjects of the slide. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. If the picture speaks for itself, there's no need for a summary or explanation of what it depicts. Yet narrative is only words that must concisely paint pictures that speak for themselves. Is a few words describing, summarizing an object sufficient to fully represent it's identity? No. It's impossible. Its attributes from the macro to the micro are infinite. So only a few summary words that capture its essence imitate the whole so it can be experienced vicariously by readers. In short, show is tell, only artfully disguised, so artfully in deft hands tell as show transcends surface meaning and becomes visionarily or mystically profound, the de re or of the thing meaning, emotional meaning, its accessible emotional subtext.

Once an understanding of the differences between and similarities of show and tell are appreciated, dig into a narrative, any given narrative will do, and distinguish show from tell clauses, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, etc. Entire critically and popularly acclaimed novels are written in tell, though so artfully it doesn't matter to their approving readers. Then in process, recognize that one reader may say this particular passage is tell, and another will appreciate its artful representation of a whole and pronounce it show. So, you know, show and tell is fluid. It's yours to own and master according to your sensibilities and sentiments. And most profoundly, what you read or write, show or tell, is yours and yours alone to admire or despise, appreciate or not, accept or ignore, and enjoy or reject. A poet's journey at some points along the way must be a solitary voyage crossing the ocean deeps.
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bcomet
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Re: Tell and Action

Post by bcomet » August 7th, 2011, 1:35 pm

Thanks. All of this is very good information to rethink on. Tell has to have voice, and not be boring and it has its place when well used. Very tricky at times. Obvious at other times.

The more I write, the more I become aware of the nuances. And then, even more-so, as I grasp to understand them, they are complicated.

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Re: Tell and Action

Post by GeeGee55 » August 8th, 2011, 12:29 am

Interesting topic. When I was writing daily, which I have not been able to do for a while, I just felt when to tell and when to show. Frequently, the show came first, because I was identified with the character and putting their experience on paper. The tell would come later, in revision, when I realized that there were facts or descriptions of place, etc. that the reader needed to stay with the story.

I saw your other post, bcomet. Best wishes to you.

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Re: Tell and Action

Post by bcomet » August 8th, 2011, 9:07 pm

That's interesting GeeGee. That instinctive knowing thing is so great when it's working with the writing!

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