Saturday, August 23, 2014

Walking the Line of Showing/Telling and Internal Dialogue

How often has it been pounded into our brains - show, don't tell? While writing, don't tell us what the character is doing, show us what they are doing. But I've come to realize there's a fine line between showing/telling and internal dialogue.

I've been a little down lately about how my novella, BREATHLESS, is doing. It's not doing awful, but it's not doing incredibly well like I'd hoped. One of my writing friends, J.A. Bennett started reading it and sent me a message on something she quickly noticed.

             There's no internal dialogue.

As an example: at the beginning of the novel, Lainey overhears a conversation about her between her step-father and mom, they are criticizing her depression and solitude. Her only reaction is her heart skipping a beat and she walks away. I didn't realize what was missing, until Jennie mentioned it. There's nothing about how Lainey's feels and responds to the situation. You get she walks away, but there's nothing to signal her emotional mood or her thoughts. The reader is shown how the character responds, but they aren't getting anything from her. Lainey's head reads like an empty tomb with no thoughts other than where she was going to move next. An empty play.


A better way to respond would have been: Lainey clutched at the door, her heart pounding. Yes, she had almost died, and yes she wasn't sure what she was supposed to do with her life, but Peter had no understanding of what the sea meant to her. It was unfair of him to judge.

In that instance, we get Lainey's internal thoughts on the conversation. She know she's unsure of what to do and that she's hurt by the conversation. The reader gets to know Lainey better.

As writers, we are told so often told "show, not tell". And it's drilled into our heads until we can't focus on other things. I became paranoid of telling. It came to a point of losing contact with my character. Her thoughts were lost because I didn't want her to tell the story, but show it. I've noticed there's a difference in what we might think. There is good telling and bad telling. Bad telling would be "Lainey hated how her parents talked about her." That's flat out telling. Good telling would be "Lainey despised their words. They didn't understand and couldn't know the pain she felt. It wasn't fair of them to think of her like that."

We do still need to be careful about too much telling, but we have to be careful not to cut internal dialogue in fear of telling. We lose our character's thoughts and our reader's attentions when we do that. I've definitely learned there's a fine line we need to walk between the two and hopefully it gets better with practice. :)

8 comments:

  1. Very true. This is a balance I'm working on, too.

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    1. I'm glad that I'm not alone! It's a balance I hope I get better at. :)

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  2. I can totally sympathize. I used to be a writer that over-described things. Big, long flowery paragraphs. Too much telling. Over the years, I've cut back. Sometimes, I cut back way too much and the story loses something. Finding that balance is difficult.

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    1. I was the same way - I loved over-describing things and giving all the details on the places and people and how they looked. I started cutting and cut too much. It really is hard to find that balance!

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  3. I have the opposite problem... I always think I overdo the internal dialogue, to the point where there is nothing left for the reader to guess! Definitely a balance. FWIW, I really liked Breathless. Just wish I wasn't so behind on writing up reviews!

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    1. Now that's an opposite difficulty! Maybe we should split our overshowing and undershowing together to make it right. :)

      No problem - I'm super happy you liked it and I'm patient to wait for your review!

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  4. That was such a perfect example, I couldn't have said it better myself! This is lovely, I'm totally going to re-share it :)

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    1. Thanks Jennie! :) It's because of your help I see it now! You are welcome to share it!

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