18 February, 2015

Show n Tell Time


Since it came up a few times in critique of my work, I did some studying / reading up on show vs. tell.

Until now, I've mistakenly assumed it meant tell: author speaks, show: character speaks.

What I discovered, along with some pretty hilarious examples, is that show is actually metaphor/simile, and the reason why it is an issue in my own writing is because I don't like it.

Just think LIKE and AS and you get the idea.

Her memories were lost forever like the treasures buried with the Titanic.

As she kissed her way down his manly chest, he felt his Amalgamated Crane Company stock increasing in value.

I'm borrowing some interesting show from The Daily Blowhole since I suck at coming up with my own or remembering any from every body of work I've ever read.

Metaphors can be good, however, and should be used once in awhile to convey a deeper, more tangible meaning to whatever is occurring or being seen/discovered in a key scene. A thought that bears comparison in order to show the reader the hero or heroine's deeper reflection on the moment.

This I get, and I do use them. I know I do.

Just not every freaking sentence to describe every freaking occurrence, eyelash bat, way of walking, or the emotion involved upon seeing Mr. or Miss Right.

When I read them during or prior to a sex scene, it takes me right out of the action and into a laugh-fest of epic proportions -- like watching two clowns go at one another at a smelly chili cook-off on a hot as hell summer day in Dallas. (See, I can come up with some doozies now and again, too).

The examples shown are deliberately, brilliantly awful, but to me it isn't much different from the (cough) better ones.

Her embrace made his manhood swell like week-old roadkill on hot asphalt in the Georgia sun.

And, let's not overlook the cliche aspect of simile (show) in a romance novel:

Beatrice was on him like a piranha on a corn dog.
With each breath, her chest heaved like a bulimic after Thanksgiving dinner.

I get that these are an abuse of show and not quite as common as one might hope (LOL) to read in all romance novels, but I maintain that they are the reason our genre is made fun of, put down, and believed to be trite bits of trash with some raunch tossed in for effect.

I also get that it doesn't happen quite as often as the nay-sayers and anti-bodice-ripper set would like us to believe, but to me it is all still contrived nonsense that detracts from the story.

…then he kissed her, like a butterfly kisses the windshield of a Porsche on the Autobahn.
Her breasts heaved like a stormy ocean, and her pointed nipples were like hypodermics washed up on the shore.

I once tried to read a novel with too much metaphor, and after about 12 pages, I no-lie chucked my old Kindle across the room. How can the reader not be taken out of the story or its atmosphere each time they come across such lines?

There are too many reasons NOT to like or want to use metaphor/simile/show in my writing unless it is so flawlessly written and inserted at the right times (not throughout) to make me want to adhere to the show v. tell rule of writing.

Some of this actually hurts to read, and even if it isn't meant to sound deliberately awful.

Sleekly malevolent, driven by a violent hunger, Donovan glided through the chum-filled waters of the singles bar, oblivious to the remora of Annabelle’s adoring gaze.

Name-dropping is another bad idea and something that won't be incorporate regardless of the need for show. It is a thoughtless attempt at comparison -- with the author being oblivious to the reader's personal taste. They auto-assume the reader agrees with the assessment.

He Beatty-ed her shamelessly, making her squeal like Ned and hallucinate like Warren.
He awoke my slumbering womanhood with his double tall loin latte. “Starbucks!” I cried. 
Her sun-glazed back formed a golden arch as he moved his face toward her happy meal.

Some might think that Justin Bieber is all that and a bottle of Coke, or that by comparing the leading man with any Hollywood actor that it is helping to stress his good aspects when the reality is, the reader who disagrees is then removed from the story.

So, when it comes to show versus tell, I'll stick with what I know and try a bit harder to use more flowery prose to describe things . . .

. . . even after having had it drummed out of me just last year by another group of critique partners who said describing anything is a no-no.

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