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How Fiction Writers Can Show Emotions in Their Characters in Effective Ways

Editor Robin Patchen wraps up our examination of Fatal Flaw: # 6 Show, Don’t Tell. Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it’s happening. Robin gives some great tips on how writers can show by action and thoughts rather than by relying on describing bodily sensations. Be sure to pay attention to this one! (If you missed this month’s post on this fatal flaw, start with this one here.)

This month, we’ve been studying that famous axiom for fiction writers: show, don’t tell. Today, I’m going to tackle what I think is the most difficult thing to show in our novels—emotions.

If you’ve been writing for a while, no doubt you’ve heard it’s not acceptable to name emotions. Don’t tell us Mary is sad. Show us she’s sad.

Many writers lean on a clever trick to show emotions—they describe a character’s physical reactions to emotions. So characters are often crying, yelling, and slamming doors. Their stomachs are twisting, their hands are trembling, and their cheeks are burning. We hear exasperated breaths and soft sighs. Don’t even get me started on heartbeats. Some characters’ hearts are so erratic, I fear they’re going into cardiac arrest. Continue Reading…

Where’s the White Space?

Editor Christy Distler continues our examination of Fatal Flaw: # 6 Show, Don’t Tell. Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it’s happening. (If you’ve missed the first posts, be sure to read them here and here.)

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the most common instructions given to fiction writers. In other words, don’t write a flat explanation of what’s happening; instead, get into the POV character’s head and describe what he or she is seeing, hearing, thinking, smelling, tasting, etc.

Explanations tend to bore the reader, especially if they’re long and drawn out, and they make a story feel shallow and unbalanced. Sure, readers get what’s going on in the book, but they don’t experience it. Continue Reading…

Show, Don’t Tell: What to Show and What to Tell

Editor Linda Clare continues our examination of Fatal Flaw: # 6 Show, Don’t Tell. Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it’s happening. (If you missed the first post, be sure to read it here.)

In a fictional story, readers imagine that the characters have real lives, just as they themselves do. But the writer who tries to act out a character’s every moment will find readers snoozing sooner rather than later. We’re often told to “show, don’t tell.” So when is showing actually the less effective choice?

The Usual Routine

Most of the time, a character’s routine is not crucial to the story. Habits such as hearing the alarm clock, shuffling into the kitchen for that first hot mug of coffee or tea, getting dressed, or other mundane activities may be commonplace for all of us but rarely make for exciting prose. Readers will assume your character isn’t running around naked or heading to work without brushing her teeth—unless being unclothed or unbrushed is important to the story. Continue Reading…

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