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I've been creative writing all my life, though with various haitus(es) along the way. IFrom 2010 I started this blog and enjoyed sharing writing and other information with everyone. illness and bereavement supplied the more recent hiatus.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

That's Just Telling!

Okay, so you know how we are always being told Show not Tell ?

Well I'm reading two examples of successful novels that both seem to rely heavily on telling.

TELLING involves narrative summary. Being told what is happening rather than the reader feeling it for themselves. The author spells everything out, populating the narrative with statements, rather than letting the reader experience it. While it is possible to include some description in the telling, it is fairly stark and factual.

A friend recently leant me her copy (that she'd owned since she was 13yrs old) of Du Maurier's 'Frenchman's Creek'  She adored it. I was surprised to find how much it read like a teen romance. I was also surprised how my initial impression of the book (apart from the first chapter) suggests that it is more heavy on the telling and that it appeared  to rely a great deal on exposition through dialogue, which can make the piece punchy and action packed and consequently, me, the reader more of an onlooker than a participant.

'Their backs are not yet broken that's one blessing" he called softly; "perhaps they are worth all the guineas Sir Harry paid for them after all" The driver shrugged his shoulders. He was too tired and too stiff to argue.The roads were damnation and if the wheels were broken and the horses destroyed he would be to blame, not his companion. If they could have travelled quietly, taking a week over the journey, but this devilish break neck speed, sparing neither man nor beast, all because of my lady's damned ill-humour.'

Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road' was also recommened by the same friend. The novel has been made into a film with Viggo Mortensen. Again my initial, overall impressions have been surprise at how much like a YA it seems, populated mostly with with telling sentences.  Nevertheless on reading the opening page again, I am astonished how much more showing there is than I remembered. While the telling style makes the piece move faster, I feel like someone looking in on the action rather than being part of it. Of course this could be a plot devise to reflect how the MC is distancing himself from emotion after the harrowing experiences he has suffered.

'With the first gray light he rose and left the boy sleeping and walked out to the road and squatted and studied the country to the south. Barren, silent, godless. He thought the month was October but he wasn't sure. He hadn't kept a calendar for years. They were moving south. There'd be no surviving another winter here'.

SHOWING involves the use of details and descriptions in order to create a sensory experience for the reader, with metaphor that construct an analogy between two things or ideas and simile, which indirectly compares two different things by employing the words "like", "as", "than", "as though.

While these are written in a style to which I'm not usually drawn, as I much prefer descriptive styles of writing, I am keen to read to the end and have been known to enjoy similar action packed writing, like Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking Trilogy.

Have you read either of these books?   What do you think of their styles?


  1. I haven't read either yet, although 'The Road' is on my TBR list. I guess this proves two things - styles change through the years, and if you know the 'rules', and can write well, you can break them when it suits you :)

  2. I think both showing and telling have their place. I'm easily bored by writing that swings too far in either direction. The Road -- awesome book. I read that thing cover to cover in less than 24 hours! (A first for me.)

  3. The Road is literally on my physical pile of TBR books from erm.. last year!! LOL!.

    Daphne Du Maurier's style is all her own - I just love her - especially her classic short stories that haunt me still. I think your quote here from the Frenchman's Creek may be telling but oh how! It's done in a rich voice - I feel the driver's annoyance and irritation - damn that lady!! LOL!

    The quote from The Road is equally as potent. Again, the voice speaks volumes. "Barren, silent, godless." How yummy is that phrase?

    Ooh maybe I should shift The Road up my TBR 2010 pile!!! I don't really know what I'm saying! I just think talent and skill and the gift of writing shines through whatever style a writer writes in. Take care

  4. I have not, but I want to now. Because despite the advice to show not tell, if an author is that talented that their telling is light years above most writers' showing, then those are books I want to read.

  5. I haven't read The Road but, like Old Kitty, I love Daphne du Maurier.

    As others have said, times and styles change and certain rules come in out of fashion. If the telling is superb, then it can work beautifully.

    I think a lot of writing artistry is found in the pace of the piece, whether showing or telling.

  6. McCarthy is from the area where I was born and raised. Sorry to say I have not read his work!

  7. haven't read either book altho The Road is on my list. I think the important thing is to do it well, whether you're showing or telling.

  8. Hi,

    I so love this post because it highlights the fact that in old novels telling not showing had greater priority. One sees it all the time in Jane Austen novels. Another thing with old novels is omniscient POV. And, to be honest, God-like imagery and eaves-dropping narration can be fun to read.

    There was a time when first person POV was frowned upon as being an affliction of newbies to writing, that it was considered to be amateur. Yet these days YA seems to all in the medium of FP POV.

    great post!


  9. I read something by McCarthy, but don't remember which title. I enjoyed the book I read. I'll have to check out the French dude.

    Yes, styles change. Lots of old classics would never get published today. But I love them.

  10. It is so hard to get it right with showing and telling. As long as the narration doesn't sound forced or contrived I think a bit of both is good. But I'm still learning how to show not tell. The Road sounds great.

  11. I'm with Milo. I think too much showing can sometimes be tiring -- same with telling. If they're used in balance, I'm okay with that.

  12. Hi Madeleine

    Thought I'd pop in to say hello!

    I haven't read either book, but some writers can get away with breaking the rules!

    Hope all is well, or at least better, with you.


  13. I haven't reas any of these. Or heard of them. I was reading future fiction or action adventure at the time. But' I'm sure they're great reads. I'll take your word for it.

  14. Daphne du Maurier was by far my favourite author when I was a young teen. Thanks for the memories. :)

  15. Thanks for all the comments everyone. It's been a very thought provoking discussion. I finished reading the Du Maurier so I could give my friend back her book. I'm glad I did. I'm speeding through the McCarthy too. :O)


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