On Friday of last week, I came home to find my manuscript had returned from its assessment by one of the professional readers of the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA). I wanted to wait a while before opening it but my children were having none of that 😉 They waited with bated breath as I tore open the envelope and read the first paragraph of my three page report, summarising the reader’s opinion of ‘From Here to Nashville.’ When I looked up with a big smile on my face, they knew the coast was clear and we all breathed normally again. I read the whole report through then and was very pleased with how positive it was. Of course, there are things I need to work on but they are manageable and mostly, the sort of things I was expecting.
So in my blog post today, I want to pick up on one of these things which is all about ‘showing, not telling’, a phrase I know you will all be familiar with, just like me. The trouble is that a lot of the time, you read about these things that you’re not supposed to do when writing but you do them anyway because you don’t know how to do things differently. I have been reading up about it over the weekend and found that the advice is not so much that we should ‘show, not tell’ as writers but that we should try and achieve a good balance between showing and telling. Sometimes, you will need to tell your readers some information in order to move things along. All writers do it, you’ll see it all the time when you’re reading. The trick is not to do it too much and to get in as much showing as you can without overdoing it. Easy, right?
The best article I read about this topic was on Emma Darwin’s blog ‘This Itch of Writing.’ You can read the article here. She refers to ‘showing’ as ‘evoking’ instead, making the reader feel as though they’re in there with the characters. Instead of ‘telling’, she refers to ‘informing’, when as the narrator, you need to cover some ground. I find this a much clearer way of looking at the whole thing.
1. I feel/I felt
So how do you know when you are ‘telling/informing’ too much? Well, if you’re writing in the first person like I am, you will find the phrases, ‘I feel’ or ‘I felt’ popping up a lot if you are ‘telling’ too much. For example, at the beginning of Chapter 2 of my novel, I’ve written:
‘My mind turned immediately to last night and I felt warm and fuzzy all over when I thought about our fantastic gig and how the crowd had given us such a positive reaction.’
2. Watch out for those adjectives
I must admit to wondering how I could show that she was feeling warm and fuzzy, instead of telling the reader that she is. The advice I was given for this example was to write something like ‘my tummy flipped over when I thought…’ Using a verb allows me to get rid of those adjectives that have crept in there too.
3. Use the senses
Next, I need to ‘show’ what warm and fuzzy looks like so that the character’s emotional experience is conjured up for the reader. One way of doing this is to use the senses to describe her feelings. You don’t need to use every sense, that would be overdoing it but maybe choose one or two and work with that. I decided that I could rewrite this sentence as:
‘My mind turned immediately to last night and my tummy flipped over at the memory of our gig. I could still hear the crowd’s applause, see their smiling faces and soon, my heart was pounding once again as the thrill of it all came back to me.’
This has made me think more carefully about the whole meaning of the phrase to ‘show, not tell’ and I think I’m better equipped now to redistribute the balance between the two in my manuscript. However, it is going to mean another complete read through with this new hat on so I may be some time 🙂 I hope you find this useful and that it helps you when looking at your current work in progress. Thanks for reading as always and have a good writing week. Do let me know in the comments below what you think of my sentence above. I’ll be happy to take on any feedback.