Inner Narration: Show Instead of Tell

As a writer of fiction, the narration makes up the bulk of the story. It’s where the character reveals him or herself. Also, it’s inner narration that allows the reader to connect with the characters.

We root for them. Bash the bad guy. Swoon over the hero. Wish we were the heroine.

Only if the author writes the narration properly.

Writing either tells or shows. Both are necessary. However, as most editors tell their authors, show, show, show!

How? Your editor should give examples, but some don’t. I’m here to help you.

First, we need an example of telling.

Jai turned and glared at Michael. She was seething inside. “The invitations have been sent,” she said, “and you’re breaking up with me now?”

“We’re not right for one another,” he replied.

Yes, he’d told her often. She wanted a family. He wasn’t ready. She wanted to live near the coast. He preferred the mountains. She liked small towns and he liked big cities. So what? Opposites attract, right?

As you read the above paragraphs, they don’t seem too bad. How could my illustration be telling instead of showing?

Let me break it down.

In the first paragraph, we have action and dialogue. We also see one emotion, which is written in passive voice.

Paragraph two is dialogue. It’s Michael’s short explanation. And it’s fine as is IF we learn more about Jai. (Note: these paragraphs are in Jai’s point of view and after Michael’s dialogue the writer can show an action, body or facial movement, but the writer should not relay his inner thoughts. That’s head-hopping and another post for another time).

Paragraph three summarizes their problems. Summarizing a problem just tells the reader what’s going on. We don’t experience anything. Think of it this way. We don’t have a clue as to what went on in Jai’s life to make her want to live in a small town near the beach. She could be afraid of heights. She may have a medical condition that requires her to not live at high altitudes. She may have been attacked in college when she lived in Chicago or New York, or… you get my drift.

Let’s focus on paragraph three. That’s where the majority of showing instead of telling is most important.

How would you revise it? What would you add, take away? What do you want to show?

First, think of the five senses. They’re needed. Have her shrug her shoulders. Sweep her hand in front of her. Grimace, plaster on a smile. Change her tone of voice. Have her see Michael as if she doesn’t know the man she loves. Let her clothes be constricting.

Next, comes her emotions. We’re told earlier she’s seething. However, she’s thinking of their differences to plead her case, think of how much she loves him, or they’re the perfect couple because they have similar backgrounds and future goals. She may realize she doesn’t love him but that’s no reason for them to not marry. Her shrewd brain may be working out a way to get this billionaire to stick around so she can be seen in all the right places to further her career.

Then, let’s write it.

Yes, he’d told her often. But they were just incidentals for them to work on, compromise, weren’t they? She glanced his way, taking him in. Not a hair out of place. His impeccable dark gray suit, not fitting for the heat and humidity for a July Georgia day. She didn’t need to see her own body, but couldn’t help glancing down at the cotton shorts and an oversized T-shirt to clean house in. That was another difference. He had staff, dozens of them to take care of menial tasks.

She tugged on the hem of her shirt, bleach and sweat hit her nostrils. Goodness, she hoped he didn’t come near her. She had been on her way upstairs to jump in the shower and change when he messaged he was on his way and wanted to talk. He arrived within minutes. He’d either been on his way or sitting in the driveway. She jerked around and faced the mantel. He’d ambushed her.

I could finish the scene, but in these two paragraphs, you have a good idea.

In the first one, we see her mind working, figuring out how to get him to change his mind, and she compares their differences. She looks at him. In the next paragraph, her movements and thoughts show us sight, smell, and a revelation.

One last note. Summarizing as I did in the telling example doesn’t show specifics. No specific time. Generalizes her wants and desires. The showing example is in her present predicament, and her thoughts are specific as to what’s happening at that moment.

Showing and telling are both necessary elements of fiction writing. Limit telling and increase showing.

Now you have one clear example of how.



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