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Showing the reader v telling the reader.

Grant

I know this was mentioned in another thread, but for the life of me I couldn't find it.

While checking up on Starship Troopers I came across this bit of information regarding telling people and showing them; and when showing them, how difficult it can be for them to make up their own mind, and get the message the author intended.

"...on the dvd commentary, Verhoeven explains that the final scene was primarily intended as a very cynical coda: it shows that Johnny Rico has become a full-blown mindless war machine just like Lt. Rasczak (he has even copied his war cry "Come on, you apes, you wanna live forever?") and that mankind still thinks they can win this war through superior firepower. In this context, the final tag line 'They'll keep on fighting' can be read as 'They still haven't learned anything'. Verhoeven admits that many viewers and critics entirely missed this subtext of the movie, and misinterpreted the final scene as a statement of militarism, or a simple allusion to a sequel."
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120201/faq?ref_=tt_faq_2#.2.1.5

Because an author knows where they are going with the story and what their intention in writing it is, what appears to them as an obvious hint(s) to lead the reader to the right conclusion may not be nearly as obvious to the reader who doesn't know what the author intends with the story, or from what they have read so far has come to a different idea about where the story is going/what it's about to what the author intended.

Ernest Bywater

@Grant

That comment you quote simply shows that not only was the movie a total turn around from the book in what it portrayed and how it portrayed it, but it showed how the Verhoeven never grasped what Heinlein was saying in the book.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Grant

What does that have to do with showing vs telling?

Let's take a story where a father is constantly hitting his daughter, punching and kicking her. He locks her in a dark closet for days. He humiliates her in front of her friends. He yells at her. Curses her. Puts her down. Tells her she's worthless. Etc. Etc.

That's showing he's an abusive father.

Or... the author can simply tell the reader "John was an abusive father."

ADDED THIS AFTER ORIGINAL POST
Now, if the reader read the former and determined John was a good father since he was a strong disciplinarian, well...

Replies:   docholladay  Grant  tppm
docholladay

@Switch Blayde

Or in the example you described the parent does the damage in private and comes across to the public as a loving saintly parent. Try being the child of either one, both do a lot of damage, but one is never spotted by the public as such unless there are visible scars or damages to the child.

Crumbly Writer

Grant, I think I was part of the other discussion, where we discussed whether authors can reliably trust readers to 'get' the point of a story. The idea there was that, at some point, if you don't want the point of the story to slip right by the reader, you have to explicitly state the point you've been leading the reader to.

It's easy to cry about artistic freedom and about by it's better for readers to discover things for themselves, but if a large amount of readers don't understand the basic premise of the story, then a little 'telling' might be called for. As I mentioned, you can lead them to edge all you want, but in the end, if they don't get it, it's best to just push them off the cliff!

But again, it's not really a discussion of showing vs. telling, just a discussion over how best to summarize a story.

Replies:   docholladay
docholladay

@Crumbly Writer

Very true CW. Everyone needs to understand that no one method will be the right one for all stories. Fit the method used to the story itself. That is like going fishing. The same bait and tackle doesn't work for all the varieties of fish.

Grant

@Switch Blayde

What does that have to do with showing vs telling?

The director had a particular goal in mind, and didn't use a final speech or discussion between characters to tell the audience just what it was he was trying to say. Watching the movie through was meant to lead them what he was getting at, yet many (most?) people didn't get the message he was trying to put across.

Just like me having to explain this- from my point of view it was obvious what it had to do with showing v telling, but to you it wasn't obvious, hence your question.

No matter how carefully you do things, and in many cases even if you explicitly state some thing, people will take it the way they want to.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Grant

No matter how carefully you do things, and in many cases even if you explicitly state some thing, people will take it the way they want to.


That basically says even if you tell it, someone out there will take it another way. The author has no control over that.

As to a movie, unless you have a narrator, a movie is all showing. I was talking about writing fiction. That was what my example represented.

Replies:   Grant
Grant

@Switch Blayde

As to a movie, unless you have a narrator, a movie is all showing.

It may be visual, and while they have had soundtracks for a few years now, that doesn't mean a movie is all showing. What is shown & the way it is shown can be very much the same as a 4*2 to the head to get the message across: with the exception of those that take things their own way no matter what.
Or as with Starship Troupers is, it can somewhat more subtle, and left to the viewer to decide.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Grant

I don't think we are talking about the same thing.

Replies:   Grant
Grant

@Switch Blayde

I don't think we are talking about the same thing.

I think that might be the case.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Grant

I don't think we are talking about the same thing.

I think that might be the case.

Isn't that always the case during these discussions?

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola

@Crumbly Writer

Isn't that always the case during these discussions?


Are you suggesting that we are supposed to discuss the same thing in a topic? What fun is that?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Chris Podhola

Are you suggesting that we are supposed to discuss the same thing in a topic? What fun is that?

If we kept on topic, we'd quit reading the damn things after the first five posts. It's only the off-kilter responses which keeps these extended discussions interesting enough to continue discussing the contentious details.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

If we kept on topic


In this case, it wasn't that we moved off the topic. We had a different definition of what the topic was.

tppm

@Switch Blayde

Let's take a story where a father is constantly hitting his daughter, punching and kicking her. He locks her in a dark closet for days. He humiliates her in front of her friends. He yells at her. Curses her. Puts her down. Tells her she's worthless. Etc. Etc.

That's showing he's an abusive father.


That's telling eight examples of how he's abusive, rather than simply that he's abusive, but it's still telling.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@tppm

That's telling eight examples of how he's abusive, rather than simply that he's abusive, but it's still telling.


In the story itself, it would not be telling. Those things listed might be thousands of words of action and dialogue. That is not telling.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

In the story itself, it would not be telling. Those things listed might be thousands of words of action and dialogue. That is not telling.


Yes it its, unless of course you use illustrations instead of words. Telling is all a story can do. Showing is for movies.

Replies:   Grant  Switch Blayde
Grant

@Dominions Son

Telling is all a story can do. Showing is for movies.

Showing in a story is through implication, subtle suggestions, what isn't said.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son


Yes it its, unless of course you use illustrations instead of words.

@Grant

Showing in a story is through implication, subtle suggestions, what isn't said.


Neither of those is what showing is in fiction, as in "show don't tell."

You show through dialogue and action. Yes, it's with words since that's what fiction is. But it's the words you use. And it's not through implication or subtle suggestion. That's when I realized we were talking about two different things.

There's nothing subtle about it.

There are two ways you can write something. Either subjectively or objectively.

Subjective is telling. When you use words like "felt," it is subjective (e.g., he felt angry).

Objective is showing. You can't say the character felt angry. All you can do is write how he acted or what he said. It's basically watching him through a camera (with microphone). You can see his face redden. You can see him kick a table. You can see him slam his hand on the table. You can hear him yell. And so on.

I guess you can say since you didn't spell out that he was angry it's subtle, but not really. If the author does his job right, it would be obvious he was angry. The difference is the reader sees his anger rather than be told he's angry.

That's all that "showing" is. It's not a lot of description. It's not hinting or implying. It's showing it through action and dialogue rather than simply telling the reader using words like "felt." (btw, felt is only one example, but an obvious one.)

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

That's all that "showing" is. It's not a lot of description. It's not hinting or implying. It's showing it through action and dialogue rather than simply telling the reader using words like "felt." (btw, felt is only one example, but an obvious one.)


This is roughly how I see the difference.

Tell
Peter was angry as he turned away from the table and left the room while swearing.

Show
Peter slammed his hand on the table, spun about, and stomped from the room while saying, "Fuck it!"

............

Often a good show will have a bit more detail in it, but not always.

I think of it as tell describes the picture while show paints the picture.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

Tell
Peter was angry as he turned away from the table and left the room while swearing.

Show
Peter slammed his hand on the table, spun about, and stomped from the room while saying, "Fuck it!"


That's the way I see it as well.

There's nothing implied or subtle about him being angry in that example. But the reader "sees" his anger rather than be "told" he's angry.

Good example.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

That's the way I see it as well.


Watch it, Mate, if we agree on too much at the same time the universe may grind to a halt!

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Watch it, Mate, if we agree on too much at the same time the universe may grind to a halt!

In that case, invite Aubie to participate. He never agrees about showing! 'D

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