Showing v Telling

Basically a Joffrey who only cares about his own pleasure and takes his duties as a King even less serious then the one we know, which leaves his advisers a free hand to actually rule the realm as long as they keep providing him with fresh entertainment. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
The irony is if the realm really does run smoothly and the advisers govern competently then the rumours of the darker things going on in the royal court would likely be dismissed as vicious rumours by the populace at large indeed.

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However, by virtue of their intent to be citizens of the realm, the populace has given their consent to mental manipulation. To be conducted only by Merlin, and only in the most direst of emergencies.

(the populace is immune vs. dissent attacks, but please try again!)

IMO plot is also relevant for instilling a sense of momentum and providing a framework for everything. I saw Blade Runner 2049 the other day. Beautiful movie, lots of moving parts and little stories… strung together by a very thin plot that couldn’t sustain the length of the film. Character development other than the protagonist’s almost happened in spite of the plot rather than because of it.

hmm, I personally love tell, cannot get enough of it. Exposition is great-in character. I love words and descriptions and telling everyone exactly what I mean in loving, verby detail. However, that has a tendency to make a great piece of work that is ultimately self satisfactory and leaves readers with a sense that they have read something you thought like, ‘gee, wow. that was great reading someone else’ thoughts.’ It requires no effort on the part of a reader like that and even discourages individual interpretation.

With showing, it’s superbly difficult to use all the imagery and words you might want; but, in my experience, it makes a truly interactive and very strong scene. It immerses the reader into the work, rather than keep them at arms length by observing narration as if through a glass wall. It’s the difference in good writing, rather than what is commonly perceived as ‘good writing.’ Strong writing is concise, powerful, avoids passive voice and too many gerunds, adverbs, etc as crutches. Flowery description and definitive conclusion via narration versus active and descriptive language, while fun, ultimately leads to only self satisfaction XD

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As with showing and telling, I think this is good advice that shouldn’t be made into a universal rule. Fiction can reveal other things than character.

Setting, for example. Even in non-genre fiction, there can be a real pleasure in getting to know an interesting place for its own sake. Much more so in historical fiction, and most of all in sci-fi, horror, or fantasy, where exploring an unfamiliar world can be a major part of the appeal. Gormenghast’s setting has as much character as any of its characters; some of its best sequences are all about the castle rather than its denizens. China Mieville rolls out a new imaginative setting or creature every chapter, most of which arguably ornament the plot rather than advancing it. And while Mieville has said some famously unkind things about Tolkien, he also recognizes “subcreation”–the elevation of worldbuilding to be just as important as plot–as one of Tolkien’s key literary contributions.

A sentence may also be there to express a theme or idea. Yes, those are often best expressed through plot or character (or setting). But they aren’t always. I’ve read terrific novels by Julian Barnes and Milan Kundera where digressions into ideas are some of the most memorable bits. If the novel is epistolary, like Marilynne Robinson’s extraordinary Gilead, the author doesn’t even need to go omniscient or break the fourth wall to use sentences this way.

So yes, I’m another who’d


I think the notion here is that–particularly in literary fiction–an author’s description of setting does reveal character (ie we’re learning something about how our POV character sees the world), or moves the plot forward (because exposition/revelation is taking place.) I don’t actually think interactive fiction has to do this.

To someone who was advocating this–and I get that you’re not–I’d question the presumed primacy of character in this way of framing it. What makes a sentence that seems to be about the setting really about the POV character? Why should it have to justify itself in those terms?

Maybe Victor Hugo’s lengthy digression into the Paris sewers is artistically justified not because it tells us anything new about Jean Valjean at that point in the story, but because Hugo thinks the sewers themselves are important. Perhaps finding the language to convey the shifting sewers of Paris to the reader is intrinsically valuable (as much so as conveying a distinctive character).

Or maybe the sewers illustrate a major theme of the book, like the relationship between rich and poor. This is a different thing, I think, from moving the plot forward; thematic exposition/revelation can basically be independent from the plot. Hugo’s sewer chapter famously interrupts the plot of Les Miserables, and the fantasy novels like Gormenghast and Mieville I mentioned above have lots of digressions that slow down the plot for the purpose of revealing the world, not the characters.

The rule that every sentence has to justify itself by plot and character criteria alone seems better suited to writers of high-quality potboilers than literary fiction. The latter should surely be open to ditching plot or character when there’s something more interesting to be chased. Take Joyce’s Ulysses, a monument of literary fiction, absolutely bursting with sentences that neither advance plot nor reveal character. :slight_smile:

All that said, I don’t want to be too harsh on the proposed rule – it’s meant to focus minds and deter rambling self-indulgence, which is all to the good. But I think it overlooks a lot of other things that are worth focusing on and can justify a sentence.


I’m not 100% certain if the following is what has been stated before, or not:
When I write (and I know most my friends do too) we see that the tell allows to not have to explain everything through either, show or tell, or to give the reader a breather from the plot if the plot has been (necessary slow) or pretty intense.
The former case in detail means that the reader is able to go ‘oh they did this because X’ even if X as such spelled out on page, but makes sense to do based on what is given about the world.

Like (small example) ‘Oh, X knew that Y was pretending to be Z because Z asked about something that X had told Z just hours prior’ without having to spell that out.

Whether you show or tell, there’s ought to be common sense, logic, continuity and comprehensibility in and about it. I’ve seen enough stories in which the overall quality took a nosedive alongside the suspension of disbelief because the author told one thing and then showed the other while acting as if they were not contradicting each other.
(You can of course use the tell one thing, show the other, to good effect, but once again this comes back to worldbuilding and it has to make sense.)

I think i’m digressing a bit here.

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Nope! I am. I think world-building that doesn’t do anything but build the world is deadly boring. But, chacun a son gout.


I think some of the 'world-building" issues might come down to your story’s theme as well as the elemental genre you’re using.

For example, if you are focusing on “Wonder” as your elemental genre, then one of your main objectives is to convey a sense of “Wow! This place is awesome!” to the reader. So in that case, I can see adding lots of little details that might not directly affect the plot, but that do help create that sense of Wonder. I think about Harry Potter and all the thousands (seemingly) of little throw away references to specific types of candies and treats and all the other little cool stuff, and I doubt that each one of them ended up furthering the plot in any real way, but they help build the “Wow!” factor.

On the other hand, if you’re going for elemental genre of Thriller, then you’d be well-served to keep the plot streamlined and fast-moving, and not dwell on much, if any, content that doesn’t directly drive the plot. So I think the amount of world-building is mostly determined by what you are trying to accomplish.

Now generally speaking with interactive fiction, since the writer is trying to immerse the reader in the world, to me sometimes it feels fake for every single character, object, setting, etc., to directly affect the main plot. I think little moments of conversation, exploration, etc., that don’t directly affect the main plot can deepen the reader’s fondness for the universe.

To me, some of the best scenes in the Avengers movies were:

  1. them eating shawama at the end of Part 1, and
  2. them having the “lift Thor’s hammer” contest and partying in Part 2

And neither of them were necessary to the plot. They could have been skipped. But they made us like the characters just a little bit more.


Well, I am coming from the perspective of someone who enjoys reading material that’s entirely worldbuilding outside of a story altogether… descriptions of fictional cultures, timelines of fictional histories, etc, all of which I find interesting in their own right… so I resultingly would have a higher tolerance for seeing that sort of material in a story than some others might.

I do think it’s worth noting how point of view affects all this. If you’re writing in first person, every sentence is an opportunity to characterize the narrator, even if it’s primarily about something else. Even in a third person perspective, if it’s the limited sort, and you’re describing things through your characters’ eyes, you get a fair bit of this. Second person, especially if interactive, could be trickier on this front… same would apply to a customizable first person narrator. You may not want to presuppose too much characterization of the narrator (unless it’s a preset character)! Even then, however, you can use this viewpoint to help immerse the reader into their character’s viewpoint, just by bearing in mind what stuff would be common knowledge, what would be strange and notable, and so forth.

There can be a bit of a blurry line between, say, characterizing a person and characterizing a society, say… being as the latter is made up of characters, and characters are from their society, showing anything related to one will have an impact on the other. And, when it comes to speculative fiction, depicting a society can be one of its most powerful tools… it can show new facets of what it might mean to be human (or alien, or elf, or whatever).

Now, interactive fiction does have the advantage of increased customizability, so it’s possible to tailor things to more people’s tastes than you might otherwise do. Codices are one way for that… you can provide encyclopedic infodumps that people can access as wanted, sorta appendix style, without troubling those who don’t wish to. A good way to just tell tell tell tell tell without it getting in the way of the story :grin: and, I mean, you can even have stuff within the story that’s skippable, or a possible diversion that the MC can access if desired (say, if you choose to ask the old sage to explain a religion’s history :thinking:), and all that sort of thing.


Ah, then I was misunderstanding “I don’t actually think interactive fiction has to do this.” :slight_smile:

Well, even for a reader with gouts like mine, I’ll readily concede that I’ve read at least as much boring and awful worldbuilding as good. My fellow Tolkien imitators in particular always deserve the question “Is your world really half as interesting as you think it is?”

To join Eric in jumping to movie-dom, some of my favorite examples of great movies that became terrible franchises – The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean – went wrong because they seem to have decided that it was the mythology, the worldbuilding details, that made the first movie great and doubled down on it in the sequels. The Twilight movies are all terrible, but the terriblest are the ones that get lost in the vampire mythology and forget that at its best, this is a high school love triangle melodrama.

So yes, worldbuilding for its own sake can be deadly boring. But I think the same warning is in order with characters – yours may not be as interesting as you think they are. “Revealing character” doesn’t automatically justify a sentence. It depends on you having written an interesting character, where the revelations add up to something genuinely revelatory.

In the same way, having recognized all the terrible unoriginal worldbuilding out there, I’ll happily go to bat for almost every setting-focused digression that a Peake or a Mieville throws into their work. They do nice characters, too; but their worlds are the real feast.


What you say is good advise but more needs to be said about world building in the Thriller genre. Especially within writing, where the verbal cues, the visual aids and the use of outside aides limit the ability to connect the audience to the here and now of the streamlined plot and fast moving dialogue, world building becomes that much more important.

A writer exploiting the “wonder” element has multiple chances of creating that connection; if one element doesn’t work, perhaps the second, third or fourth element of wonder will click with the reader/gamer and the unicorn connection is made. A writer utilizing the thriller elements has less opportunities to establish that connection and thus must be effective with those they have.

A small bit of world building within the thriller goes a long ways in giving additional points of access to the audience. A person may understand and connect to the small bit included as an aside, allowing the audience to accept the plot points and to embrace the characterizations done in the streamlined flow of the thriller.

World building can be done to adjust pace, plot, intensity and even characterization. Ignoring a tool at your command as a writer can be detrimental, no matter the genre or theme you are writing.


The scenes from Avengers Eric mentions are favorites of mine too. And they fit comfortably with the “advance plot/reveal character” dictum; what’s great about them is that they reveal aspects of character that you otherwise wouldn’t see in a superhero plot.

For a scene whose greatness is all about revealing setting, I offer one of my favorites from The Matrix:

Obviously this scene does do a bit of revealing character. We understand Mouse and his relationships a little better after it… probably feel a little more affection for him. So you could interpret it in terms of the plot-characters dictum. But if you did, I’d tentatively suggest that your character-centric dogma has distracted you from what really justifies using precious seconds of movie dialogue on this conversation. What makes this scene terrific and memorable is the Matrix-appropriate speculation on why everything tastes like chicken.

The Matrix is a great movie in part because it takes the conceits of its everything-is-a-simulation world seriously enough to spend time playing with them in funny little winsome ways as well as grand dramatic badass ones. Yes, it foreshadows the rabbit hole the Wachowskis would fall down in the sequels… but just because they got the balance wrong later doesn’t mean they didn’t find a sweet spot the first time around.


Right. But literary fiction should.

Got it, thanks.

Before saying “de gustibus…” and calling it a day: is that because most interactive fiction is genre fiction? (Which is what a lot of people would oppose to literary fiction.)

Or is there something else about interactive fiction that makes the normal guideline not apply?


Related sidenote:
In terms of CYOA and worldbuilding through telling:
What do you think better then, having a (optional) textdump or a ‘prompt’ and an author’s note that you can read up stuff in the glossary?

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At the start of my game I ask the reader whether they want the textdump or to forge on without it, figuring stuff out from context. Either way, they get pointed to the codex and glossary so they can turn to it if hopelessly confused.


Mhnn, if there is the risk for your reader to even get confused without the Glossary, the story might be in need of some revision

Personally speaking I love me a well-defined world but I won’t look stuff up while I’m reading a story. If I have to get my context from a secondary source while reading or playing along then the whole thing isn’t for me.

If it’s just optional information not necessarily pertinent to the story at hand that’s fine though but at that point you might as well throw that on a Wiki or website. Every part of the world relevant to the understanding of the story should be part of same.