Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Show not Tell

Editing your manuscript can be difficult, especially when you've reached that wonky stage where you've read it so many times and lived with it so long, you can't tell good from bad any more.  I thought it would be helpful to talk a little bit about my experiences editing manuscripts.  When writing revision notes for my clients, or for authors whose manuscripts I see potential in, I often find myself  making one comment more than any other.  It is: Please SHOW, not TELL, this.

When writing your novel, you should almost think of the reader as another character in your story.  You want them to participate in what's going on, to have a deep connection with your characters, and to feel almost as if the story is happening to them as they are reading it.  To accomplish this, you need to use dialogue and rich, sensory description to successfully evoke the emotions your character is feeling, the setting they are in, etc.

For example, which sentence/s to you find more compelling?   Connie was nervous as she went to go pick up the phone, or Connie heard the phone ring from the hallway.  She walked toward it apprehensively, her palms chilled and sweating.  As she picked up the phone, her voice quavered.

Hopefully you said the second, more descriptive/engaging one.  The writer (yay, me!) is utilizing description of all the senses (umm...minus taste).  But on the other hand, you want to make sure you don't over-show, either.  You don't want the reader to feel as though they are being told how to see, interpret, or register something at every moment of the novel.  You need to give the story a little room to breathe.  It's a fine line -  if you end up on the wrong side of that line, you have something that readers will put down after the first page.  But if you get it right, you have something subtle, absorbing, and memorable.

P.S.  I changed the background on my blog!  My website design-y friend has been trying to get me to let him make it all fancy and cool, but I kind of like my simple tile-imaged books.