Certain Words Tell. Do Yours?

I’m competitive.

I love tennis. I like to win ugly on the tennis court, but unfortunately, no matter how hard I try, I’m queen of the rim shots. Do you know what I mean?  The ball hits my rim more than the center of my racquet. The good thing is that my opponent can’t tell where the ball is going. The bad thing is that I don’t either.

Writing is also one of my favorite things to do. I can’t stop. But unlike tennis, I believe I can get better–even in my old age, whereas, in tennis I’m about as good as I’ll ever be. I’m competitive–just not an athlete. I can’t change that.

But I can improve my writing, and because I’m competitive, I know I will.

Reading books on writing is one way that I learn the craft. The other way is to enter writing contests. How do I know if my writing is improving? Judge’s scores always differ, but usually there’s something they all agree on.

One category on most score sheets is, “Does the author have a grasp of what showing versus telling means?” 1 is poor, 5 is the best.

I rarely score a 5.

This frustrates me. I want to know WHY they think I’m telling and not showing. I need to SEE the telling parts as blatantly as a judge can SEE THEM RIGHT AWAY. Right now.

Guess what? I found a book that’s helping me do just that. Last week I downloaded Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, by Jill Elizabeth Nelson for FREE. Jill’s book is about how to write in deep POV. It was the best money I ever spent. Seriously, though, I would recommend this book even if I had to pay for it. (I think the Kindle version is $2.99) And NO I don’t know Jill. Never met her before. (I’d like to though.) I heard about her book at FB or Twitter. Word of mouth works.

I’m only 3/4 of the way through the book, but I had this “aha” moment while I was reading Chapter Three. I was in the dentist office waiting to have my tooth extracted, and I needed a diversion. A good one! When I read Jill’s examples and explanations I laughed out loud. (It was the last time I laughed the whole day.)

I wanted to share what I learned with you because I think it could help all writers. Let me ask you something:

When you think do you say to yourself, I’m thinking I should go to the store today? No! Duh! You simply say, “I need to go to the store today.” You know you’re thinking. Why should you tell yourself you’re thinking? The same is true when we write. We don’t want the reader to leave our main character’s head. We want them to feel like they’re right there. There are certain words that get in the way of readers feeling like they’re in your head.

Here’s what Jill said in Chapter Three:

“In Deep POV, you will not need to write he thought/she thought. The same goes for he felt/she felt…he knew/she knewwondered…realized…speculated…decided…wished…etc. These phrases are DEATH to Deep POV, because they create narrative distance. Readers are now at arm’s length from the character, not in the POVC’s head where they belong.”

Stop and go to your WIP. Do it right now. Type one of these words (thought, felt, knew, wondered, realized, speculated, decided, wished) in the FIND bar. I typed THOUGHT in mine. Holy smokes. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many chapters contained that word. I write in SCRIVENER so it didn’t tell me my total. Thank goodness! Because I didn’t want to have to tell you. In Scrivener it only highlights the chapters that had that word. Sheesh, the word THOUGHT was in almost every chapter. Every. Single. One. Ugh! How about you? How many did you have? Tell the TRUTH.

I love this visual! It’s measurable. It tells me that I still suck at telling.

It’s like hitting the rim of my tennis racquet. In order to find my sweet spot I need to identify my weaknesses. This does it for me. It’s a start.

Let me give you a few examples of what I mean. Jill has many of them in her book. I LOVED her examples because they were practical. I could see them. And I learned from them.

Please keep in mind that I’ve just returned from getting my tooth extracted. (And still not laughing.) Since they say we should write what we know, here are my examples:

Shallow POV:  She thought getting her tooth pulled would be awful.

DEEP POV: Phew! She was glad that was over. She almost came out of her chair when he yanked her tooth out.

 

Shallow POV: When the dentist started the drill I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach.

DEEP POV: When the dentist’s drill revved its high-pitched squeal my stomach fell to my toes. 

 

Shallow POV: I knew it had to be done, but knowing that didn’t make me feel any better.

DEEP POV: It had to be done. I begged him to get it over with. Fast. I clawed the arms of the chair.

 

Shallow POV: I wondered how long it was going to take before the whole tooth was out. It felt like he was drilling to my brain. He’d warned me it could break into pieces. Was it?

DEEP POV:  Shoot! The tooth must have broken in pieces. He’s still yanking. Oh, no! Now he’s using the drill. Am I going to pass out? No, the noise of the screeching drill could wake the dead. Besides, I need to stay awake to make sure he doesn’t drill to my brain.

 

Shallow POV: I wish I hadn’t gone to him.

DEEP POV:  If only I hadn’t gone. I’d be smiling right now.

 

I love how going into DEEP POV gets straight to the point. You know what the character is thinking and feeling without the author saying “she thought this, felt this, wondered this.”

Did you notice how I turned some of the telling sentences into questions? Jill recommends this.

It’s not that the SHALLOW POV sentences are grammatically wrong. (Well, at least I hope they aren’t.) It’s just that they’re intrusive. The DEEP POV is the way to go.

Now it’s your turn. I’ll post one of Jill’s homework questions. You’ll have to buy the book to see her answer examples.

Shallow POV: “Kendra realized she couldn’t take the whole litter of puppies with her at once. She tried to think of ways she could smuggle them out one by one.”

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Oh my gosh! This is so helpful. I’ve added the book to my to-purchase queue and moved it to #1! This is an issue in my own writing. Thanks for sharing!

  2. The difference between the red “bad” examples and the green “good” examples in this post is far more than one of telling versus showing. The language in the second of each pair is richer, more elaborate, more vigorous. The simplistic insistence on showing rather than telling is similar to the shopworn prohibition of the passive voice and other perfectly good elements of English. In the hands of modern writing coaches, authors of writing handbooks, and preachy editors, entire regions of our linguistic heritage are being declared off limits. How silly. The issue is not the form but the style. Limp-wristed, cliche-ridden showing is weak and unexciting; telling that is punchy and passionate, infused with insight and elegantly expressed, is good writing.

    Even the notion of not taking the reader out of the story is one of those contemporary tropes that has been chanted to death. Taking readers out of the story, getting them to think about an idea or event–or about how it has been conveyed by the writer–can be the very hallmark of good writing. The best writing often causes the reader to pause and think, “I like the way the writer put that.” That writers so often collect and share their favorite excerpts as exemplars of good writing is proof that they were, in fact, “taken out of the story” and made aware of the writing as writing and of the writer as an interlocutor.

    If there is a rule to learn it would be: Show AND tell, but always deliberately and always with style.

    • Hi Lior!

      Wow, you said that so eloquently. I love your comment about “getting them to think about an idea or event… –can be the very hallmark of good writing.” Isn’t that true! I long for the day my readers put my book down and think about my message, or something I said. What I don’t want is for them to put my book down, walk away, and never finish the book or think about it again.

      Thanks for commenting here today!

      Michelle

  3. Hi, Michelle:

    I’m over the moon that you found my small handbook so very helpful in your writing development. (Yes, I know “over the moon” is a cliche, but if a person can’t use such things when we’re hanging out on a blog, where can we?) Deep POV is a powerful technique for enhancing our writing. Not the only technique out there, but I’m passionate about the topic. Getting the material I teach in seminars out there in booklet form has broadened my reach. I’m very thankful for the word of mouth (and blog) that is aiding that endeavor. 🙂 Write on!

    Jill

  4. P.S. Very nicely written blog post! You made me laugh, even if you weren’t laughing today. 😉

    • Hi Jill!

      Yay, so glad you dropped by. And THANK you for writing the DEEP POV book. I haven’t finished it yet, but I will. It’ll be one of those I reference often. Don’t you have a Twitter account? I couldn’t find it. I wanted to share my tweets with you today. I’ve had close to 200 hits. Many writers struggle with this. I really got excited about writing this post. One, because I love helping writers and two, it gave me something to think about besides my tooth. I’m thrilled that you laughed.

      Keep writing and if you ever want to guest post at RANDOM please let us know. We welcome all writers who want to teach others and encourage them.
      Hugs,
      Michelle
      PS. What seminars do you teach at?

      • LKWatts says:

        This is an awesome post and one that’s helped me a great deal. The way you explain things is so obvious but then when you go over and look at your own work the errors stand out by a mile.

        • LKWatts says:

          My errrors, I meant, not the errors of this blog post as there aren’t any 😉

          • Hi L K!

            Lol, I’m sure there are many errors on our blog posts. We spot them all the time.

            Thanks for your compliment and we’re thrilled when we hear that our content helps others. That makes our day. Keep writing and visiting!

            Michelle

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