craft tip of the week


Written on Saturday, May 16, 2009 by haleigh

Saturday, May 16, 2009

So as most of you know, I have an unhealthy obsession with craft books. So I thought I'd start posting tips that have been helpful for me on here, in the hope they become helpful for someone else. If they're straight out of a book, I'll list the info so you can get the book for yourself (if you also have this obsession :)

This week's tip........showing vs. telling

Shocker, I know. Something none of you have ever heard of :) Clearly, we all know that it's important to show things instead of telling our readers. It creates more investment in the story, more empathy for the character, and overall, that brings that elusive dream of hearing a reader say "I just couldn't put it down."

And there are tricks galore for how to do this. But I inadvertently stumbled across a way that seems to be working well for me, so I thought I'd pass it along.

I have a secondary character named Josephine. I love this character, and adore writing her. It's become such a love that I'm toying with the idea of writing her story as a sequel. But because she's a secondary character, very few of my scenes are in her POV. Only one, so far, in 120 pages. And there will only be a couple more, I think.

So because I am never in her head, I don't really have the option to telling my readers anything about her. I'm forced into showing it. I have no thoughts, no internal emotions, nothing. Only her outward dialogue, facial expressions, and actions.

And those reading the MS got it. I was really surprised, but I kept getting comments about how much Josephine loved the main character, or how hardened she is, or how dedicated she is. All these little insights to her character, without me ever telling any of it. And frankly, I'm surprised just how well I've gotten to know Josephine, without ever going into her head.

So this has turned in to a trick for me. If you're having trouble getting to know your character, or showing things about them instead of telling, try writing a few of their scenes from another character's POV. How do they react, what do they say. What are those little, tiny micro-expressions and actions that give away what they're feeling deep down. What are the little things they do when they're trying to hide something?

For instance, I have this scene in my MC's POV. And he says something truly asinine to someone else. Josephine doesn't react, doesn't say anything. But she drops the box of cigars she's holding. And the cigars are rolling across the floor in this moment of sudden quiet after the crash of the box.

And that was it - there was no dialog, no frantic thoughts on Jo's part. Just the cigars. And those reading got it. If I'd been in Jo's POV, I would have been tempted to over explain it, to beat it to death to make sure reader's understood why she reacted the way she did. But because I didn't have that option, I was forced to leave it at just showing, and it worked.

Now clearly, I don't think we should stop writing in deep POV, but if you're struggling, this has been a way that's helped me really force myself to only show. One caveat thought - I will say that reader's interpreted Jo's reason for dropping the cigars very differently. Their view and understanding of Jo influenced what they took from that scene. But you know, those little nuances can be part of the fun of writing.

Anybody ever tried this to work on showing instead of telling? What other tips do you have for forcing yourself not to tell your readers what's happening?

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  1. Jessica |

    Great post! This is a good reminder for me. I'm going to lengthen one of my categories and I want to make sure I don't end up just telling a whole bunch of stuff.

    I'm horrible at reading craft books so feel free to pass along some freebies! LOL

  2. Kelly Krysten |

    Funny, I was thinking about this very topic before I came here today. In fact, I've been overthinking this for a couple of I find it hard to show and not tell. I suppose this is because I think so very much in RL. How many times did I mention the word think? See!lol.

  3. haleigh |

    hi Jessie!
    You know, I always get into trouble when I start adding thing too. I'll go back to add some introspection or internal narrative, and end up just *telling* all sorts of things. Opps! LOL!

  4. haleigh |

    Hi Kelly - oh good, another over-thinker. I over think and analyze everything. I found a piece of facebook flair I'll have to send you - it said, "I don't obsess. I just think intensely" LOL!

    It's a hard line to figure out how to walk - showing vs. telling. I regularly think "okay, I've got it now," only to have a crit partner come back and say, "there's a lot of telling here." Grrrrr!

  5. Cindy |

    I'm on the side where I tend to over explain it. That is an excellent tip and I am going to keep that in mind. I have a good deal of characters that are necessary in my WIP but I don't want to be SHOWING everything about them. Thanks!

  6. haleigh |

    Hi Cindy! Thanks for stopping by :) You know, I have more characters in this WIP than I'm used to dealing with, and it does get harder to keep showing once you throw more people in! Glad this helped - if you have any other tips, feel free to share.


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