This past year has been a big one for me. I took a lot of big leaps, including freelance editing full time. With such an intense amount of time spent editing each week, I’ve been starting to see a pattern in the issues with my clients’ manuscripts. Today, I want to talk about this whole telling versus showing business.
When we read books, we do so to escape our current reality and get lost in someone else’s. We’re want to see what they’re experiencing, feel it, taste it, smell it. We want our senses engaged by letters on a page. As writers, it’s our goal to make this happen for the reader. So how do we do this? By getting rid of passive voice.
Let me explain what I mean by distance. When I was a kid, I’d have sleepovers at my grandmother’s house. Before bed, she’d read me some Disney book, but I remember her reading Peter Pan the most. Sometimes when I start to read a client manuscript, it’s like I’m back there, listening to my grandmother tell me the story. But I don’t want to be told a story. I want to sink into some new world, some new person, and forget reality for a little while.
Go to your manuscript and look for, and delete, filter words (which will also get rid of your passive voice). Words like saw, heard, watched, thought, decided, etc. add an immediate distance to your manuscript. We don’t want to know what they saw; we want to see what they’re looking at with them. I don’t want to read that Emma saw Owen moving towards her. I want to read, Owen moved towards her. Emma is seeing Owen walking to her and so are the readers. Even in the first person, the reader doesn’t want to be told what’s going on by the point of view character, they want to see it. Look at this sentence:
I looked at Owen and watched him walk towards me and I could feel my heart beat faster.
This is all telling and I see this SO much in the manuscripts I edit. This is just narrating what’s going on instead of letting the reader experience it with the main character. How do you fix it? With an easy re-write:
Owen walked towards me, his arms reaching for me. My heart beat fast, pulsing against my throat. This was it. We went from having a pretty boring moment to suddenly being inside Emma’s head, experiencing what she’s feeling as Owen walks towards her.
We went from having a pretty boring moment to suddenly being inside Emma’s head, experiencing what she’s feeling as Owen walks towards her. Just with taking out looked, watched, and could feel we shifted from telling the reader what’s going on to showing them.