writing

I read a fair amount of novels. Not a huge amount, but quite a few. One thing I wish more authors would do is show and not tell. I’m not talking about long conversations filling in plot points; I’m talking about internal monologues. Paragraphs and paragraphs “inside” the main character’s head (and everyone else’s, in some books). I don’t like them. It clogs down the narrative and I’m less of a romantic and more of a “get to the point” kind of girl.

Telling too much assumes that your reader can’t make a connection between an action and a thought process. Look at visual storytelling– if a character’s face contorts into rage, he punches a wall or morphs into the Hulk, you know he’s angry. He doesn’t need to shout, “I’m really angry about this!” along with it. The action reveals the emotion. If you try to verbally explain the emotion over the scene, it ruins it, because it’s unnecessary. You may as well depict a girl surrounded by sixteen strawberry shakes, with another drained five glasses on the counter with pink residue on them, put strawberry on her upper lip, and have her pronounce happily, “I love strawberry shakes!”

Um… we noticed.

Instead of a lengthy monologue about approaching the girl the hero likes, he should show nervousness in how he walks toward her and hesitates. Indecision flickers across his face and he wipes his hand on his jeans. Then he either squares his jaw and takes the final five steps or ducks his head and retreats. See? No internal dialogue, but you still know how much he likes her, how shy he is about talking to her, and whether he’s mustered his courage or is defeated by self doubt. Which is more fun to read – the action, or…

Gosh, I really want to go up to her. But what if Jim’s right, and she doesn’t like me? I don’t know why she would like me, I’m just the local geek. I probably should play it cool, but… oh, no! Now my hands are sweating. That’s gross. Maybe I should walk away. I really ought to just turn around and leave.

Some of you ornery readers will say the latter, but for me, it’s the former. I don’t need assistance in discerning the state of mind of an action-driven character.

Each author’s style is different; some will use more description or internal thoughts than others, but it’s important not to have too much internal focus. It slows the pacing of a book and makes it longer than it needs to be. I’d much rather read a quick, action and character-driven story that never lags than an epic with too many words.

The next time you sit down to write, show… don’t tell. It’s fun.