QUOTE (Fridgecrisis @ Mar 12 2010, 02:57 PM)
I want to go back to, like... fifteen posts ago, to the thing about dialogue. Harmill argued that description and dialogue are both examples of showing. The "Show, Don't Tell" thing goes a LOT deeper than that, I believe.
For the longest time, I thought that dialogue was always a "show" instead of a "tell." After all, if a character was speaking, it was part of the physical action, right? But I posted some of my writing in a writing forum a while back and I got some interesting responses that have really changed how I think about the "Show, Don't Tell" issue.
I now believe that anything can be either a "show" or a "tell." It's not limited to specific kinds of language or whatever. A character might say, "I have a thing against people who wear purple shirts," but just because he says it doesn't mean it's "showing." This is actually a very "telling" statement, because it's the character himself actually telling us something.
Consider this instead. A person walks into the room wearing a purple shirt, and John turns to his friend and says, "Can we leave? We need to leave. Right now." Poor example as it may be, this "shows" the reader that John doesn't like people with purple shirts without him ever saying it directly. He's obviously feeling agitated (he repeats himself: "Can we leave? We need to leave.") and wants to be away from the purple-shirted person.
There's always stuff in writing discussions about prologues being huge info-dumps, where the writer just explains everything they think the reader needs to know before the start of the story. But throwing it in quotation marks doesn't magically make it all better. It's still an info-dump. "Showing" involves more careful use of descriptive clues and subtle hints, making it so that the reader understands something without it ever being stated.
But as a final note, I think telling is kind of underrated sometimes. Sometimes it's just less obtrusive to come out and say, "Lucy is my sister" rather than have a pointless visit from John and Lucy's mom and have her give them both a kiss just so the reader can establish that they're related.
Anyway. Just my two cents.
Nice post, and I don't really have an argument against the core of what you're saying. I don't want to go as far as saying 'badly' written dialog is 'telling' while well written dialog is 'showing' but I think there's also context that has to be taken into consideration. In your example, if someone enters with a purple shirt and John bluntly states, "I have a thing against people who wear purple shirts", I see it as very unnatural dialog (I suppose it could be considered 'telling' if that's all that happens). I dunno about you, but who just says something like that without any instigation? If he was to leave the room at an unusual pace and someone chased after him and asked him what's wrong then perhaps that dialog would be considered 'showing', even if it's John directly stating a pet peeve. It would make sense for him to say something like that given the context.
And yes, I agree that telling shouldn't be labelled as a 'bad' thing. If used correctly it can help prevent a book from becoming unnecessarily long and drawn out. Certain scenes serve better to be 'skimmed'. Telling is given such a bad reputation because it's typically a sign of bad writing and new writers fill entire chapters with telling and barely any showing.