E. Tip of the Day: It sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Vague descriptions? Yet we see them all the time in some of the manuscripts we review here at Written Dreams. What the author is really doing is telling the story to the reader instead of showing what is happening to the characters. What the reader reads is a vague description that doesn’t really say much of anything at all, takes them out of the story, and frustrates the heck out of them.
The reader can’t see what the author is seeing inside their head, so instead the reader finds something else to do with their time. Reading that book is not one of their options.
So, as an author how do you fix this? How do you learn to show the emotion and tension of your story without telling it? How do your recognize when you are telling instead of showing?
One way to see the vague descriptions is by reading the story back to yourself aloud. We’ve talked about this before and doing this yourself as a writer is an invaluable tool. (You’ll have to put the story down for a few days to distance yourself first so you’re reading it with fresh eyes.) When reading aloud, you won’t be able to feel the emotion that the characters should be feeling at that given moment. You know the emotion that you had thought you had written into the story? Instead, the characters may feel hollow or wooden, and not really alive. Just partly alive–like a walking zombie. 🙂 If you’re writing a zombie book, this might be a good outcome. If you’re not writing about zombies, then you may want to go back and revise to show more emotion and tension.
When showing the emotion, put effort into the words and be creative. Really get inside the heads of your characters and become them. Learn their habits, hobbies, and skills. Learn their vocabulary. Do they like to complain about the referees when watching football (my dad is famous for this 🙂 or do they sit back and enjoy the game? Once you get the hang of it, it will actually be easier showing than it is telling. Hard to believe, I know, but true. Don’t give up! You’ll get there. Just keep working on putting down those words with emotion. 🙂