One of the oldest pieces of writing advice out there is, "Show, don't tell." If you're a writer you've probably seen this in every style guide, heard it from most of your creative writing teachers, and seen it mentioned in blogs just like this one. The problem is that this writing proverb (because that's really what it is) doesn't offer a lot of concrete ways to actually do what it's suggesting.
As such I thought I'd make a suggestion for this week... cut out your internal monologues. Or, if you can't cut them out entirely, keep them short, simple, and to-the-point.
|I remember it was 1917 the first time I heard that name...|
Don't Make Your Book Feel Like a Recipe Blog
Since quarantine began I, like everyone else, have been doing far more cooking than I ever actually did before. And since I have a sweet tooth I wanted to find something tasty I could make without causing my waistline to swell, since I'm doing home workouts instead of going to the gym these days. When I put up a recipe in Creamy Yogurt Jello: An Ideal Dessert For Those Looking To Lose Weight, all the commenters who saw it said the same thing.
"This looks really good. Thank you for not putting up some story about your family tradition when all we wanted was the recipe!"
|My grandmother first taught me this when I was 17 and dating my first girlfriend...|
I had seen the memes and jokes about how any time you try to find a simple recipe for homemade cornbread or peach cobbler that you always had to wade through paragraphs of fluff about how the author first learned to make this recipe as a child, or about some traumatic life event that gave birth to a new family tradition. I thought it was exaggerated... for those not used to searching through cooking blogs looking for recipes, there is no exaggeration. Several sites I visited literally had a "Skip To The Recipe" button on top that automatically bypassed 3/4 of the page to get to the part that mattered.
Internal monologues can end up like that; a big, bloated, ponderous read that might be interesting under the right circumstances, but which kills the pace and frustrates the reader.
Show Us The Reaction
|That was smooth, guy. Real smooth.|
Does this work? Sure, it conveys the sense of nervous panic of our protagonist screwing up a social interaction. It's clumsy, though, and it doesn't offer any nuance or set dressing... it's just telling the audience exactly what the lead is thinking in his own words.
For contrast, try the following.
"Hey Jake," Marjorie said.
My heart hammered, thumping in my ears. I swallowed, hoping it might quiet the noise in my head a bit. I turned, smiling, but when I tried to say something my mouth had gone completely dry. I coughed, trying to clear my throat.
"Sorry," I finally managed. "What do you need?"
"Could I get past you?" she said, pointing with one lacquered nail at the space just down the narrow hall.
"Huh?" I followed where she was pointing. I felt the flush creeping up my neck, and tried not to think about it. That just made it worse. "Oh, yeah, no problem."
This description is a little melodramatic, but it gets the point across. Our protagonist, whoever he is, comes completely undone when Marjorie is near him. But rather than just giving the audience the soundtrack of Jake's panicked mind, we get to see the reaction he has to her presence. We can make the connection easily enough without being told by Jake's own running monologue what he's thinking.
If You Need To Tell, Put It In Dialogue
|Just have them talk... trust me, it works a lot better.|