Monday, January 11, 2010

Manuscript-Fix Monday: show and tell

One of my crit partners posted a question about showing vs. telling this weekend--always a fun topic. She said that sometimes, she can't always tell the difference between the two in her own writing. And you know, it's hard to, sometimes. I don't blame her for feeling overwhelmed, especially when someone points out "this is telling" in a crit but doesn't explain why. (I'm not saying this happened to her, by the way, because I have awesome crit partners and they'd  never be so ambiguous.) I told her to look out for excess adverbs and adjectives in her writing.

I can see you, over there in the corner, rolling your eyes. What's wrong with adverbs? Why are people always going on about adverbs? I like adverbs. They do the job. Sometimes another word just doesn't say what you need to say, the right way.

To you, Ms. I Like-lys, I say this: Using adverbs is lazy writing. And--when you use them you are usually (see, that's an adverb) telling (which I'm doing, by the way), not showing.

Let me show you what I mean. (Ha.) Here's a sentence from my current w.i.p. Nuts Over You:

Vampira, Queen of the Undead, sat at the kitchen table, flipping casually through a magazine.

Okay. Not a bad sentence. It's grammatically correct and yes, it shows you what my heroine (whose real name is Dale, by the way) is doing: flipping casually through a magazine.

When I reread this sentence, I targeted the adverb. Casually. Okay. Fine. What does that convey to the reader? She's reading slowly? She's reading as if it doesn't matter? Perhaps. But this sentence is in my hero's point of view. He's not happy, right now. He's just struggled to put a three-year-old down for a nap for three hours. And he comes out into the kitchen to see a woman he doesn't like (yet), reading a magazine.

I'm going to change this sentence to give it an extra boost. Remember, I'm in my hero's point of view, so I'm going to look at Dale through his eyes. (That's a key point to remember when you're trying to show, not tell.) Here's my new sentence:  

Vampira, Queen of the Undead, sat at the kitchen table, flipping through a magazine as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

Okay, that's a little better. As a reader, (who just struggled through putting the child down for a nap with him), I'm starting to think he got a raw deal. Did she read the magazine the whole time? He was singing his voice raw in the other room, with a bladder about to explode, and she was reading a flipping magazine?  That is so not fair.

With that in mind, I'm going to use this to create an emotional bridge between my reader and my hero, by going into deeper point of view to explore Shane's world:

Vampira, Queen of the Undead, sat at the kitchen table, flipping through a magazine as if she didn’t have a care in the world.

Of course she didn’t. She hadn't been the one trying to put Anna down for a nap for three hours.

At his request. Shane winced. No, at his command. 

He’d told her that he was in charge of the child because he was the one with the early childhood education and she was just…

A warm body who could have sung to Anna while he took a bathroom break and maybe even got a cup of coffee or something…He wanted to punch himself.  Shane, sometimes you’re a real idiot, you know that?

What I've done is add some layers. We have an observation, which causes a mental reaction (a thought, I guess it's called ;) ), which leads to a realization, which leads to an emotional reaction and finally, a physical one (or the thought of one, because I'm not about to have Shane pop himself in the jaw, even if he deserves it). My reader is experiencing the world through Shane's eyes, here, going through his journey along with him and it's because I'm showing, not telling.

Now if I had stuck my original wording, casually flipping through a magazine, I would have conveyed a perfectly good action. But by working at it a little and not allowing my self to be a lazy writer, I've made a connection (or at least, I hope I did) with my reader.

That is the power of showing vs. telling. ;)

Your assignment tonight is to go through your current manuscript and look for -ly's. At each one, consider which words you can use to replace the word that says what you think you need to say, the right way. Remember to try to see the world through your character's eyes to include an observation, and a  reaction (mental, emotional or physical). Remember, it's through your character that your reader experiences your story.

Class dismissed.

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