Monday, June 11, 2012

Characters Can “Tell” Too

Recently I read a manuscript for my internship that I had a real problem with. It took me a while to figure out why I disliked this ms so much because the story was interesting, the characters came to life, the writing was—for an unsolicited submission—very clean. And then it occurred to me:

The characters were telling me things.


Okay, let me see if I can explain this without sounding like I have no idea what I’m talking about. We all know about showing versus telling. I’ve blogged about it before, so I won’t go into details about it (go here if you need a refresher), but not until I read this story did I realize there’s another way of telling. Through the characters.

For example, if you have a character who, for whatever reason, doesn’t want to be in a relationship but really likes a certain guy, there are ways to reveal that information besides the character saying to herself “I know I shouldn’t like him, but I do” over and over. This can be shown.  Maybe the girl accidentally shows up at his work because she was thinking about him, or she calls her friend the guy’s name and the friend calls her out on it. I don’t know, but your job as a writer is to show us a story and not simply tell us that Character A likes Character B. Or have Character A tell us she likes Character B.

This can go for revealing something new too. Say your character is just discovering he has the ability to change the words coming out of people’s mouths (lame example, and I’m blaming the fact that it’s early on that). Anyway, as readers we need to know that this is new for the character to increase the tension, to see the story moving forward (there’s so much to say about this it’ll be an entirely different post), but the last thing I want is the character thinking Ohmygosh this is new!  or Whoa this has never happened before. The character should be caught off guard with it, or be put in a really awkward situation where whatever he thinks comes out of the other person’s mouth. You get the idea.   

Take a look at your narration. Is your character doing the telling? If so, come up with ways to show it instead.

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  1. I've never thought of it this way before, but it makes a lot of sense. :)

  2. I have a hard time with this and have to fix it often in the editing stages.

  3. All advice on showing not telling is helpful. Thank you for two different perspectives!

  4. I like that perspective! Now to go back and make sure my characters aren't telling too much.