Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Showing and Telling in your manuscript

by Stephanie Morrill

When I saw what I'd noted on the calendar for myself, I groaned. Partly because this is a tendency I've just started noticing in my own writing, which means it's a mistake I'm sure I made in the Skylar Hoyt series.

And pointing out a flaw that's in my published books brings up the same emotions as when I was 12 and swimming in a pond at a party. I ripped the butt of my bathing suit on a rock. Part of me wanted to cry, "No one look! I just ripped my bathing suit!" Of course you know you're just drawing attention to it...

But I guess now is a great time for us to all be reminded that writing is something at which we never fully arrive. We will always be growing and improving in our craft.

Okay, I'm 135 words into this post and still haven't identified the topic. Which is:

Inner monologue can be a form of telling.

Likely many of us have heard the advice, "Show the story instead of just telling it." Just so I know we're all on the same page. This (in the red) is telling something:

I felt so mad at my brother. "Britt, you give that back!"

And this is showing it:

My fingernails bit into my palm. "Britt, you give that back."

Those are the semi-easy ones to spot in your manuscript. But did you know that sometimes you can use your point of view character's inner monologue as a form of telling? Because I didn't.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. (Again, problem area marked in red.)

“I didn’t know your mom was ever married,” Sandi says.
“She wasn’t.”
Sandi colors. “Oh.”
It had happened in her "hippie days," as Mom puts it. Mom says they were practically over when she found out she was pregnant with me. He stuck with her through pregnancy and the first few months of my life. But Mom said it was obvious he didn’t want kids, and she was tired of winter. So she moved back to Orlando.
"I wasn't exactly a planned child." I force a smile and sip my coffee. “We don’t have to talk about it.”
Is that an unforgivable way to write that information? No. Will it get you rejected by agents and editors? Unless you're doing it constantly, no.

So, it's okay ... but it could be done better.

One way to improve it is put it in quotes. 

Sandi colors. “Oh.”
“I happened in her ‘hippie days,’ as she puts it. Mom says they were practically over when she found out she was pregnant with me. He stuck with her through pregnancy and the first few months of my life, but..." I shrug. "Mom said it was obvious he didn’t want kids, and she was tired of winter. So she moved back here.”
Sandi's blue eyes are round and unblinking. “I think that’s the most I’ve ever heard you talk about yourself.”
I force a smile and sip my coffee. “We don’t have to talk about it anymore.”
If Sandi already knew this piece of information about the POV character, that wouldn't work. ("Well, as I've probably told you before, Sandi, my conception happened in her 'hippie days'....")

When you're in situations like that, you can do the inner monologue with the dialogue lead in thing:

"Well, it's not like my mom planned to have me."
Sandi colors. "Oh, right."
I happened in Mom's "hippie days," as she puts it....
Inner monologue is necessary, of course. You need it in balance with your dialogue and action and all that other good stuff.  But when I'm editing, I have to keep an eye on my point of view character's inner monologue to be sure I'm not squeezing in any of that lazy "telling."

Quick reminder - writing contest entries are due tomorrow, so get those turned into me.

Also, we were so touched by the flood of "thanks" that came in when we celebrated hitting 400 followers by giving away 4 writer prize packs. The winners of the prize packs were Daniel, Jill, Patti, and Sky!

Have a great Wednesday, everyone!


  1. This is helpful, I didn't think of putting backstory like that in quotes!
    My writing has grown so much because of GTW, don't stop what you're doing!

    1. I agree, Allison! My writing has definately improved since Go Teen Writers. Thank you Mrs. Morrill for all the time and work you put into this!

    2. I'm so glad you guys find the blog helpful. It's really fun :)

    3. I'm new at writing hope to improve my skills

  2. :D I got worried at first, because I'm in the process of putting in a lot of . . . inner thoughts for my MC, Ryan, and I was afraid I was doing it all wrong. Then I realized you were talking about actually telling the story. His do a little bit of progressing the story, but mostly it's just funny to see a guy talking to his conscience.

  3. Way to go winners :)
    Thanks for this advice! I really tend to 'tell' instead of show, and I'm working really hard to stop doing that. This post was really helpful for explaining how not to

  4. Thanks for the post. I struggle with this too. I just do not always think about it. It is a work in progress.

    Congratualtions to the winners! Very exciting!

  5. Yay for the winners! :D

    Haha, with the bathing suit thing ... yesterday I dug a folder out of a rather abandoned bookshelf. It had choir music I sang a while ago in it, so I took it out and looked at it, reminiscing about days gone by. And then I remembered, horror of horrors, that I had some of my old writing in the back of it. Futilely I tried to hide it from sight.
    Of course, my sister found it and read it out loud.
    I stuck my fingers in my ears and sang.
    Thank goodness we were the only two people around.

    1. Oh, Micah, I can totally relate! I'd be horrified if anyone saw my old manuscripts. Or my first drafts!

  6. I love your honesty! I totally groaned when you said we never really arrive as a writer. But it's true!
    I've been reading through old posts on composting &such. I so want to just have the idea there but like you said good ideas take work, again a groan, but the honest truth. So many writers are like "ideas just show up" I think hate that even more than "good ideas take hard work" :) thanks for your honesty!

    1. Good ideas do take work! It helps to watch the news, or just spend time living life. My current MS was inspired by a book I *loved*, as well as spending time with my dog, of all things. :P It also helps me to brainstorm with a buddy and to make sure I know my characters.

    2. I don't think theres one part of writing that's easy.
      Like you said, I'm looking over books I have loved to see if there's anything I can mix with what's already in my ideas folder. I'm actually going go try & get a bunch of ideas & then like Stephanie said go with the biggest one!
      At least that's my plan right now, it's ever changing :)

    3. Thanks, Tonya! The blog feels pointless if I'm not being honest :)

  7. Whoa, did this ever come at the perfect time. I'm at that point in my WIP where I want to start spilling backstory so that these secrets I've been bottling up for thousands of words can find a home...but it's not quite perfect timing yet. Still, I want to so bad! :) Thanks for the reminder, Stephanie, that I can still do some harm by revealing/telling too much. Also, I love it when you and the Writers Alley coincide with topics. They posted this recently:


    1. I have the same backstory struggles too, Rachelle Rea. I just want the readers to know everything I know about the charater's past so they can understand their present time problems and viewpoint. But it does not work like that.

  8. Hi, I just stopped by to let you know that I really enjoyed reading your Skylar Hoyt books. I finished the series the other day and loved it! :)

    1. The books are good, Shelley. I enjoyed them a lot!

  9. Huh. Very interesting blog post. And informative! I've probably been very very guilty of this. The first draft of my current novel feels like it's going to drag on forever, but these hints and tips have really been helping me with my "slump." Thanks a lot!

  10. I just gotta say that it makes me SO happy to see in my manuscripts when I go back and read them that I "showed" instead of "told". And its kinda difficult to remember sometimes to show instead of tell.

  11. It's good to see fellow teen writers