The longer I edit novels, the more I am convinced it’s in the writer’s DNA to tell a story instead of showing their audience who their characters are.
Editing is where the story evolves, takes on a new life. Not only for the character but for the plot, setting, and ultimately for the reader.
Well, we’re used to certain ways and wording. Writing essays for school, we’re taught just the basics. Use had, have, was, were, etc.; add ING verbs, use prepositions for transitions. We talk in that manner as well. We take literally the idea that if the character stands her next action is to… begin walking. We need to tell the reader what’s in our minds.
Let me state that again. We, (the author not the character) need to tell readers what we have in mind.
That is called author intrusion. It tells instead of shows.
How do we change this habit?
First, learn to write from day one to show instead of tell.
Look at this example.
Splaying my hands on my hips, I shook my head, turned, and surveyed my surroundings. Enlarging the family room, extending the sunroom all the way across the back of the house, and opening up the attic to make a bedroom and ensuite bath and a private playroom for me and Master, when he visited, was a high priority, keeping the historic value and charm of the 1930s Craftsmen with modern finishes.
As you read the example, some will wonder what’s wrong with the paragraph. I’ve used only a few ING verbs. They do not follow helper verbs, so this is active voice, not passive. I used only one helper verb at the end of the paragraph. I’ve written the description in a manner that would give a word picture instead, somewhat.
So what’s wrong with the paragraph?
Read the first sentence once more.
Splaying my hands on my hips, I shook my head, turned, and surveyed my surroundings.
In this first sentence, the woman turns and looks around her. The next sentences should describe where she is. And in a way they do, but not her exact location. We know she’s in her home, one that was remodeled. We know what type of home. But where?
This is author intrusion. It may be a good paragraph, but the author took the reader out of the character and inputted her own thoughts on the remodeling of the home.
Splaying my hands on my hips, I shook my head, turned, and surveyed my surroundings. White Shaker-style kitchen cabinets, matching quartz countertops met my gaze. The same white clean lines made up the rest of the room, with a few pops of color. The sea-green sheets of glass made up the backsplash. That color carried over in the painted cabinet beneath the island. A stainless-steel farm-style sink and the cabinet pulls and knobs and appliances gleamed in the sunlight, and plank-style porcelain flooring in shades of gray and white kept the room from being sterile.
The paragraph above shows us where the character is. We see what we see. More importantly, we’re right there with her. We’re getting to know her personality within the description of her surroundings.
Here are a few tips. Read blogs and books that focus on showing instead of telling. Find blogs on deeper pov. The above reflects the woman standing there thinking before she acts. Edit your own piece. I suggest at least once. I edit more than that. I also suggest having critique partners or Beta readers to review your story.
Last, hire a great editor.