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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Telling Words—Part One


I struggle with editing. I have to turn off my creative brain and turn on my critical brain. But I am getting better at it. Editing my own MS and beta reading for friends has helped me learn what to look for.


So in the spirit of NaNoReviMo, which a lot of my friends are doing...this post is for you :)

I want to show and NOT tell! It’s a goal of mine and I would love to get better at it. As I edit I make lists of words or phrases that tend to give me problem. Here are 5 of the worst (at least for me):

Was
I hate this word. Sometimes its use is unavoidable, but usually we can rework it.

She was astonished. This is an obvious tell. When I come across this in my MS, I try and substitute “was” for a stronger verb and add in a little action.

She swallowed her surprise and worked to keep her face impassive. Not perfect, but you get the idea.

Seemed
This word almost always implies telling. It is usually an observation from outside POV.

He seemed angered by the news. I’m telling here. Let’s show instead.

The vein in his neck throbbed as he glared at the woman standing in front of him. “You aren’t serious?” his voice growled. A little description + a little dialogue = SHOWING.

Seemed is a huge culprit that I see in telling. Kim Karras at—Confessions of a Bibliophile wrote and excellent post on this recently.

Felt
Felt is a crutch word. We use it when we are being lazy.

She felt sick at the thought of the problem. Boo—terrible, right?

“We won’t make it in time.” The worry curdled in her stomach, and she fought the urge to vomit. When you show and not tell, you can feel how your character feels.

Realized
Sometimes realized is okay. But when it is used to explain how a character came to a conclusion—it’s telling.

He stepped on the soggy carpet and realized the toilet had over flowed again. There are two problems here. First you are telling us the carpet is soggy before the MC realizes it. Second you are telling us what he realized.

He stepped into the room and the carpet squelched under his feet. What the…? He stared at his soggy socks. Really…the toilet’s over flowed again? I bolded the internalization so you can see it. Show the MC reacting to his environment and show his actual realization.

Noticed or Could See
By default everything your character describes is something she sees. You rarely need to tell us this.

She could see the sun breaking the horizon. Instead of this show us what she sees.

The sun broke the horizon, spilling golden light on the treetops. Because your MC is the POV they don’t even need to be the subject. This tell is easy to fix.

I have other words on my “Telling” List. After NaNoWriMo is over I will post more—just in time for edits :)

-Angie  


Side note: On Monday Agent Vickie Motter held a mini contest for writing advice on her blog, so I left her a comment. I'm always full of random "writerly" thoughts, and I won :) How fun is that? Check it out here. My advice: Twists aren't just for the end of the story. Use them from the beginning so readers never know what to expect.

25 comments:

Jess said...

Wow this is really helpful! I find myself using 'seemed' a lot in the MS I'm editing right now :/
Thanks so much for the list! I'll refer back to it when I edit today!

Kim said...

Hey - thanks for the shout out!
Great post! It is so hard not to rely on those tricky little words... Another one I'm attempting to tone down is "look." My current WIP is riddled with this one - grrr...
Continued support with NaNo...

Cassie Mae said...

This is great! I'm in the middle of my revising too. Seemed and felt come up a lot more than I'd like it too. :) Thanks!

MISH said...

This is really helpful - thanks.
And I love the little gem about using 'twists' in the story.

Mel Fowler said...

So when I think of editing I don't always think about words that I use lots, and about showing instead of telling.

I'm terrible at it, so I try to ask for help whenever I can. Because let's face it, we're blinded by our creativity, and that's why we have people like you, who post about how to improve our stories! :)

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Congrats on the win! :)

I try not to worry about these "telling" words during NaNo (although I still kinda do, at least a little!) Two of the words I overuse are "turned" and "looked" - as in "She turned and looked..." :)

Brinda said...

Very cool, Ms. Contest Winner!

Abby Fowers said...

This is awesome Angie! I am working on being better with my crit work too. I love what you have mentioned. I am going to bookmark this page. Excellent stuff!

Sara Bulla said...

As you well know, I struggled with Seemed and Felt and Was ... well, all of them really. Thanks for this reminder!

Meredith said...

These are all of my problem words, too--thanks so much for the advice! I'm totally stealing it. :)

Ruth Josse said...

Man, I struggle with all of these. Now if I could only train myself to not fall back on them when I draft. Probably won't ever happen. Thanks for the list! I think you're pretty smart. :)

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

You couldn't have posted this at a better time. Gonna have to bookmark this for after NaNo so that I can attack my MSs (yes, there are 2 s's) and make some progress.

Great job Angie

isabelcostello said...

Thanks for this, very good to see it all written down though we should know it already. I recently 'realised' that about 'noticed'. Early on I heard somebody talk about naming emotions being banned and although I can't entirely stick to that it has really helped me. Instead of mentioning anger, disappointment, etc, I try to find a way of showing the character experiencing these things. Good luck with all your projects you three!

Stacy Henrie said...

Great ones to remember when revising. I use realized - gotta watch that one.

p.s. I left an award on my blog for the three of you and your blog Live to Write! :)

Mel Fowler said...

Hey Angie, so if you go to the forum section in NaNo, you can snoop around there and find conversations, but it is somewhat confusing!

E.R. King said...

Good examples, Angie! Your rewritten sentences are gold.

julie fedderson said...

I love all of those words. My editing is always about removing them.

A.J. Mullarky said...

I show all the time :G I'm so bad...

Jenny S. Morris said...

Once again so helpful!!! I get frustrated when people say stop telling and show. And I'm like HOW??? I know it's due to my lack of writing education. But, little things like this really help. THANKS!

I sent the list you e-mailed me to my ReviMo group. They all thought it was awesome.

Tara Tyler said...

great advice! (i think i've heard it somewhere before, like from my beta reader!)
and congrats on your win =)

Patricia Tilton said...

I'm just the opposite -- have to sit on the editor in me, or I wouldn't get anything written. Hazards of my past life as a copy editor. I appreciated your tips. Great post!

Shallee said...

I use a lot of these in my early drafts, too. Sometimes I actually do searches for them so I can weed them out later! I think you hit all the big ones. :)

Deana said...

Awesome job on the contest!

I am queen of these words during my first draft. When I go through my revisions I search those buggers out and try my best to replace them. It can be such a pain:)

Sarah Pearson said...

Perfect timing, thank you. I used 'realised' way too much :-)

Melissa Sarno said...

This is really helpful, thanks for sharing it! The last novel I wrote, I had over 150 instances of 'seemed'. It was sick. It took me 6 hours to go through every one and fix it. The experience was so miserable that I have not used the word seemed in a manuscript since. :)

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