I really like Dave Weber’s Honor Harrington series, space opera/military sci-fi. Rereading it and he spends 5 pages on the inheritance laws of Grayson, generally in dialogue. It’s nice, informative and not really directly plot/story related.
I’d have been excoriated for doing such by members here. My question is multifaceted. Is such acceptable in some genre or can ‘famous’ writers get away with it, or an example of leGuin’s know when to tell and not show is as important as knowing when not to tell.
To best answer your question, I'd recommend the easy, quick, informative, relatable read "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Browne and King. It answers that question way better than I can. Because, yes, there are definitely places where telling is more useful than showing. But like Le Guin demonstrates in her exquisite writing, we gotta learn when to make that call.
Telling is generally most useful for transition scenes/paragraphs, when the story needs to progress quickly over information that LINKS or TIES TOGETHER two scenes that are shown at length.
Fantasy and sci-fi both rely more heavily on telling than some other genres of fiction b/c so much of the world-building has to be explained to the reader for the real-time scenes to make sense. But learning how to relay that info in an engaging way and not as a mind-numbing info dump is the special challenge we spec fic authors must must must practice and make a priority.
Dialog is one way of making it interesting. And I'm betting that if "famous" authors did too much telling they wouldn't be "famous" for very long. It has to be engaging no matter who's writing it. Readers don't like to be bored. If they're bored, they will buy someone else's books, and that "famous" guy will be out a contract.
That's my guess on that. But seriously, I highly recommend that book by Browne and King.
Dialog, yes. On the flip-side of the dialog thing is a tendency to use dialog to express what ought to be reserved for exposition. If an author finds their characters explaining to each other what they already know, then that's a clue we're misusing dialog as exposition, in the attempt to avoid info-dumps. But this breaks reader's believability b/c it makes the dialog feel fake.
This is when dialog does not work to solve the issue.
In such a case, an author might opt to explore the necessary information through flashback/anecdote: your character experienced this part of the world-build through this particular tragedy/adventure/mishap. Giving the information through personal experience will definitely keep the reader from being bored, AND you've built character backstory in an engaging way. Two birds, one stone.
You can certainly Tell rather than show. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." In fact, Jane Austen regularly "Told" rather than "Showed." She'd spend a paragraph telling you this character was a horrible person because of this this and this, and then move on to other things, without ever showing her do anything in the story.
And it was wonderful. In fact, the opening lines to Harry Potter are the same. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
She goes on to tell you how they think and behave and feel, before showing you a few scenes with them. Lots of people would say not to do this. Don't tell me Mr. Peabody is nosy. SHOW him being nosy! Let me come up with my own opinion on him!
And they would be right, and for one reason: "Telling" is harder to do well than "Showing." But here's the kicker: Telling is amazing when it's done well. It can be brilliant.
"But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!"
That's telling. Not a bit of show there. It just tells you exactly how you're supposed to feel about him without showing him actually do anything. But you can FEEL it! The imagery is so evocative, it makes you feel Scrooge's depravity. And thus, it is brilliant.
But like any tool in writing, it's kind of like seasoning. You gotta know how to do it well. Otherwise you come across too strong, or too bland. It can break the flow if not used right. It's also not as exciting, so too much spoils the flavor of the story.
The more I read the classics, even up to mid-20th Century, I realize how recent the tell vs. show argument is. Steinbeck's East of Eden, a massive tome of a novel (and a fabulous one if you can stick with it) is almost all tell. If he had written that particular saga where there was more show than tell, the novel would've been expanded to the length of a multi-tome series.
The number of decades and multiple generations the story covers necessitated a lot of "summary." But the way it's done is so masterful and meaningful that it doesn't feel like you're reading a string of info dumps. It's simply great traditional storytelling (I bet you see what I did there).
I tried to read an Anthony Trollope novel once, and Lord help me, the first few pages were nothing but character backstory. And tediously done, too. As well-loved as Trollope was a century+ ago, I can see why few trouble themselves to read his "tell" slog-fests anymore.
Austen's novels are still successful, I think, because she doesn't belabor the character sketches, and the info she provides is written with enough wit, sarcasm, or social criticism, etc. that her old-style storytelling remains entertaining, in that it moves quickly and doesn't permit time for boredom.
As far as modern authors go, my new favorite is Kate Morton. Her novels cover decades and multiple generations as well, and I was surprised by how much telling she is getting away with. But again, her narration is not boring, nor has it ever read like an info dump. Perhaps because the info she "tells" us never strays from the central mystery, and it's developed out in the most engaging ways possible. I've been hugely impressed with her storytelling. If I could only figure out HOW she's doing it...
Anyway, you two may not be her target audience, but I highly recommend Morton's novels to any writer who wants to study a 21st Century example of how to "tell" well.
Last Edit: Dec 23, 2020 14:59:40 GMT -6 by RAVENEYE
pelwrath: Okay, I'm working at keeping up with the rest of you in posting but not sure that I can.
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ScienceGirl: It's okay. In about three weeks my work is going to be crazy and I won't be able to keep up as much. We all contribute what we can
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FoxxGlove: From my personal viewpoint, I'm trying to post in terms of enjoyment and readability rather than volume. I don't think it will be more than once a day though, if that.
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pelwrath: My last post for Letters, was much easier for me.
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Caulder Melhaire: Seriously, don't stress too much in the solo posts lol
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FoxxGlove: Great advice, Caulder. I love that we can go our own way on solo quests.
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baudelairecopay: I know I'm not supposed to ask this on the forum but I can't figure out how o post, either poetry or prose.
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pelwrath: Had an idea for Litterbug Junction but after some further research, I'm dropping it.
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