writing advice

The Epidemic of Showing AND Telling, and How You Can Avoid it

As a newbie editor, I’ve come across my fair share of errors and faults in writing. Usually, when I pick up a piece of writing, I’m on the look out for grammatical errors: spelling mistakes or words used in the wrong context. Sometimes I’ll pull up on a sentence that could be structured differently to make it easier to read, or a paragraph that doesn’t make much sense within the story. But there’s something I’ve been coming across recently that’s been bugging me a lot, something that I just can’t help but notice in most of the first-drafts I read, a little something called the ‘Epidemic of Showing AND Telling’.

What Does ‘Show DON’T Tell’ Mean?

Well, to put it straight, it means that instead of simply telling the audience something that’s occurring in your story, you describe it. That might be describing the actual events, or it could mean describing the effects of the events. Lets start with this basic example:

‘Sarah was afraid.’ 

     Sure, this sentence does the job. Anybody who reads it is going to know immediately how Sarah feels, but it’s vague. Simply telling readers how a character feels probably isn’t going to resonate with them. It’s a ‘blank statement’; something people read and attach virtually no feeling to, akin to reading a fact. So how can you make it resonate? Show!

‘Sarah’s legs began to tremor. A tingling sensation crawled up her spine.’

     Again, it’s short, but rather than telling readers exactly how the character ‘Sarah’ feels, readers are asked to work it out for themselves. It adds an element of trust between the reader and the author; the author trusting in the reader to put two and two together rather than spoon-feeding them everything, and the reader trusting the author to put together a description comprehensively enough for them to be able to put two and two together. Although both examples mean the same thing, one tells the reader what the character feels, and the other allows the reader to connect to the character through a description of feelings that they too have probably experienced before and can therefore relate to. And, as every author knows, relatability is everything.

What is ‘Showing AND Telling’?

To be fair, there is a lot more ‘showing’ these days than there used to be. Ever since the ‘show don’t tell’ phrase got attention, people have been taking notice and adapting their writing to fit the rule. However, although people have started to take the ‘showing’ aspect into account, there’s been quite a few that haven’t wrapped their head around the ‘don’t tell’ part of the phrase. Instead of just showing, they’re both showing AND telling. Here’s our example again, this time showing AND telling:

‘Sarah was afraid. Her legs began to tremor and a tingling sensation crawled up her spine.’

      It doesn’t take a genius to see the author’s lack of trust on this piece. They’re showing the reader that the character of Sarah is afraid, but they add the ‘telling’ in fear the reader won’t get the picture. As pretty much any reader will notice, it’s not necessary. Everyone knows what it feels like to be afraid. Readers know that wobbly knees and a tingle along the spine mean fear and, with the context of the story’s events added in, it doubles the reader’s awareness. They know what your describing, so there’s no need to tell them.

Curing the Epidemic

So, how exactly does an author cure the ‘Showing AND Telling’ epidemic? Well, it’s pretty easy: if you find yourself using both, get rid of one. Sure, telling is still an important part of writing. There will be times when telling is necessary for your story, but for the most part, showing should always take priority, especially when it comes to vital emotionally-driven scenes (which should be a pretty big majority of your writing if your novel is fiction). If telling is necessary, such as in a fast-paced fight scene, make sure you aren’t including any long, droning descriptions or ‘showing’ that might slow down the scene’s pace.

The best way to deal with the issue is to look at each event, page or paragraph, and look at how certain elements are described. If there’s a ‘show’ and a ‘tell’ describing the same element of the story and the ‘show’ suits the story’s pace, get rid of the ‘tell’. Not only will it make your story ten times less demanding to read, but it’ll cut down your word-count, too.

Last but not least, if you’re still not sure, consult a beta reader, editor, or (come on, you saw this coming), myself. Using the ‘contact me’ page, any author who’s still confused can send a message through requesting a free five-page trial edit on their writing, meaning I can pick up on all those ‘showing and telling’ moments and give some advice on how to fix it up.

writing advice

Jordan Peele, Taika Waititi and the Art of Cliches

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably come across the idea of story ‘cliches’ before. In this media dominated era, it’s pretty hard not to. We’re a people captivated by stories and desperate to delve into new worlds and universes that differ from our own. After so many centuries of stories, I guess it’s not really much of a surprise that Hollywood’s been stated as having no ‘new’ ideas. Everybody’s on the look out for original stories, but to this day, not much has turned up, and most of what has been deemed as original content has been a box office flop compared to films like Doctor Strange – a film that utilises a majority of previous Marvel film plot points (hint, hint, Iron Man). So, if cliches are seen as bad, why are they doing so well? And why do stories that actually break these cliches so often fail?

One of the first movies that come to mind for me when the topic of ‘original stories’ are mentioned, is Jordan Peele’s 2017 directorial debut ‘Get Out‘. The film, centring around a young black man who meets the family of his white girlfriend for the first time, was a huge success both in the box office and in the eyes of critics. However, there’s one feature of this film that’s never really talked about: the fact that it is completely riddled with cliches. With jump scares (granted not many), an evil hypnotist and a house out in the middle of the wilderness, there’s really no denying this film’s unoriginality, but it’s this unoriginality that makes Get Out not only a memorable movie, but also a boxoffice hit.

giphy1[1].gif

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jordan Peele, using his knowledge of horror audiences and their expectations, manages to do something that’s rarely done by many directors today: manipulate common cliches. Instead of avoiding these cliches altogether, as many writers are told to do, Peele uses these cliches to his advantage, creating a predictable plot and an emotionally jarring central character.
The moment that Chris turns up at the house of his girlfriend Rose’s parents, we know something’s wrong. They live in an isolated country side, have some suspiciously odd helpers around the house, Rose’s parents are far too friendly and Rose’s mother is a hypnotist. It doesn’t take long at all for the audience to realise Chris is in for a double dose of horror, but it’s these expectations that make the film all the more satisfying when we find out the truth. It’s also what makes the plot twist so shocking. By reusing and slightly twisting old cliches, Peele hides the truth right under our nose – Rose was the bad guy all along. There were so many predictable cliches in the first half that our sense of ‘who-done-it’ is stripped away and we watch the film without question until it’s finally revealed that Peele has been playing us the whole time.

giphy[1].gif

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a way, Get Out was also the perfect way to introduce ‘Indie’, more original films to a mainstream audience. Audiences can all identify these cliche story points. They’re in all the big modern horror hits, allowing for Get Out to slip among the greats with gusto. We’re expecting your average horror film and predictable horror films sell. Get Out manages to bring something new to horror, wrapping it in a coat of predictability in order to attract mainstream audiences.

giphy[4].gif
However, Peele isn’t the only director that has used cliches to their advantage. Starting off as a relatively unknown Indie director, Taika Waititi became a name to be reckoned with in after his work on the Marvel blockbuster Thor: Ragnarok.

140316[1].gif

 

 

 

 

 

Thor: Ragnarok is a pretty good example of twisting cliches in itself, using the well known ‘superhero’ trend to add something new and fun to the genre, but there’s another less known film of Waititi’s that has perfected the art of using already established cliches to a tee, and that film is What We Do In The Shadows.

tumblr_nlfarg82bg1rg5dd5o1_400[1].gif

 

 

 

 

 

What We Do In The Shadows is one of Waititi’s finest comedies and arguably one of the best comedies to come from New Zealand cinema to date. Centring around the lives of a group of vampires that happen to live in the New Zealand town of Wellington, the film takes on a mocumentary style, making use of cliches to tell a ridiculous and absurdly heart-warming tale of friendship. It also, as expected, makes use of a lot of cliches.

CYaFWlU[1].gif

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Twilight series and The Vampire Diaries tv show, to old classics such as Dracula and Nosferatu, the media has always been littered with vampires. In fact, the mere mention of vampires among horror writing communities will usually result in eye rolls. What We Do In The Shadows, even though a modern day vampire film itself, has become a critical and commercial success over the years. Why? It all comes down to Waititi’s incredibly smart use of cliches.
Waititi’s film is far from original, but it uses this unoriginality to create a level of comedy that has rarely been done before: it uses known and predictable plot points to create unknown situations. Waititi uses cliche vampire situations – such as drinking blood, turning into bats, romance between humans and vampires and wars between vampires and werewolves – to explore what it would really be like to live as one of these Wellington vampires. From bloody dishes to a romance between an undying vampire and a ninety-year-old woman, everything in this film is ridiculous and if it weren’t for the use of these cliche situations, What We Do In The Shadows wouldn’t be anywhere near as hilarious as it is.

 

O2GyWye[1].gif

So, yeah, cliches aren’t always necessarily a bad thing. When done right, they can be just as interesting, if not even better, than some of the original cliche material. All they need is a little twist!

 

craft

Knitted Basket-Weave Afghan Pattern

Ok, let me start off by saying this took me about a month to make. So, yeah, if you’re a haphazard knitter, maybe this isn’t the best pattern for you. If you’re a dedicated and persistant knitter, then this pattern is the one for you, my friend!
Not only is the stitch absolutely gorgeous, but the overall afghan, when all done and dusted, looks nothing short of fantastic. Trust me, you won’t regret making this one!

Oh, also, check out my Etsy Shop CodyLCrafts at: https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/CodyLCrafts?ref=l2-shop-header-avatar  where I have this exact afghan up for sale for those of you who… you know… don’t have the patience to knit an entire blanket.

20180827_063307597_iOS.jpg

20180827_063237668_iOS20180827_063436977_iOS

Materials:
– 4.5 mm knitting needles.
– Wool needle (for sewing in ends)
– A pair of scissors
– 10x 100g balls of 8ply 4 Seasons of pure wool entwine.
– 2 balls of grey (A)
– 2 balls dark blue (B)
– 2 balls light/aqua blue (C)
– 2 balls light purple (D)
– 2 balls dark purple (E)

Pattern:
– Cast on 219 stitches with colour a (grey)
– ROW 1 – Pearl to the end of the row.
– **ROW 2 – Knit 4 stitches, *Pearl 3 stitches, Knit 5 stitches* repeat from * to * until last 7 stitches, pearl 3 stitches and knit 4.
– ROW 3 – Pearl 4 stitches, *Knit 3 stitches, Pearl 5 stitches* repeat from * to * until last 7 stitches, knit 3 stitches and pearl 4.
– ROW 4 – Repeat row 2 until end.
– ROW 5 – Knit all stitches to the end. **
– ROW 6 ONWARDS – repeat from ** to ** to reach the desired length. When first ball of A has almost run out, complete the row you are currently doing, leaving a tail for sewing in, and begin the next row with the new ball of A, also leaving a tail of this ball for sewing in. Attach new colours in this same way, so that blocks of colour are formed.
– LAST ROW – After completing a ROW 4 pattern stitch to end, begin ROW 5 and cast off on this row.
– TO FINISH – Sew in tails with wool needle and trim so they are no longer visible. Congratulations! You have now finished your basket-weave knitted afghan! I’d love to see your final creations, so send them through on the ‘contact me’ page!