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by M. S. Kaye
Staying out of the characters’ heads is the most momentously important thing I’ve learned about how to “show, not tell.”
Obviously, sometimes offering a morsel of a character’s thoughts is instrumental in helping the reader understand, but it should be limited to one morsel. If you have to write a paragraph of explanation, you need to find a better way to show the information in action or dialogue.
Or simply cut the information—oftentimes, leaving something unsaid is more powerful. Ask yourself if the information is invaluable, if it truly impacts the story. If it’s not essential, CUT IT.
And even better: keeping to only morsels of thoughts can be intriguing. People think in segments naturally, so choose to offer intriguing bits, just enough to pique the reader’s curiosity, without explaining too much. This is what keeps readers flipping pages. See the below opening to Fight Princess:
“What if I told you I loved you?” Floyd the bartender asked as he rested his elbows on the ring-stained mahogany.
Celisse was standing across the bar from him. “You love sex, Floyd.”
“There’s a difference?” Floyd grinned.
Celisse rolled her eyes. She really didn’t know if there was a difference. “Blackberry—” she started.
“Whiskey,” Floyd finished. He stood straight and poured her usual shot.
In these five paragraphs, only one sentence expresses a thought. She really didn’t know if there was a difference. Now you know something about Celisse’s love life, something powerful and interesting—and only that one sentence hinted to it. Also, notice the sentence does not go on, does not continue with that evil word “because.” I would say “because” is as dirty as a four-letter word, but four-letter words are generally more impactful. It is almost always better to cut the sentence short. “Because” takes away the intrigue. Let the reader wonder, leave them feeling curious.
And speaking of “show, not tell,” what else do you learn about Celisse? She can brush a man off with ease, and without being a bitch. That shows the kind of person she is. It also shows she’s likely attractive. We find out she’s discriminating, not slutty. And, of course, her usual shot is whiskey: she’s a tough-ass. All of this was conveyed without diving into the character’s thoughts.
Notice the overlapping of information. We hear so much today about multitasking—people are used to several things going on at once, and they can be impatient if not much is happening. If you have information you want to convey, try to find a way to give the information while other necessary events are going on.
If you choose to show strong details, your writing will be impactful and addicting. Hearing soliloquies about a character’s childhood, and how she feels about herself, and how she adores the guy down the hall is not impactful. If your character is gazing out a window THINKING, cut the scene, decide if the information is necessary, and if it is, find a way to show it.
Read my latest book to see how my method works…
Fight Princess – Published by Liquid Silver Books
Things aren’t what they seem. Don’t get involved.
Celisse is too headstrong to listen. Her best friend’s boyfriend is dead, and she does not heed Cullen’s warning, slipped to her in a note as he’s being arrested for the murder.
Cullen tries to keep Celisse out of danger and also tries to avoid her, both unsuccessfully. He can’t deny his feelings for her anymore, but he knows if she ever discovered the truth about his past, she’d surely hate him.
While struggling with her intense feelings for Cullen, Celisse uses her skills as an ex-prosecutor to investigate, all while continuing to fight for Ogden, the organizer of an underground fight ring. She eventually realizes things are connected—the ring, Ogden, Cullen, the murder, and herself. She races to uncover the truth before she’s arrested or becomes the next victim—or perhaps, the next culprit.
Through the peephole she saw Cullen staring her down, as if he could see through the door. “I know you’re in there, Celisse. Your car’s outside.”
Celisse grumbled under her breath. Then she spoke loud enough for him to hear. “How do you know where I live?”
“It’s not that hard to get a person’s address—as you damn well know.”
Crap. How did he know? “What are you talking about?”
“You made it downtown so quickly because you were already in my apartment.” His jaw flexed as he continued to glare at the door. She was almost impressed he was able to maintain that intense, pissed-off posture and expression when she saw in his eyes that he was barely hanging on through the exhaustion. Like riding a bike, if he stopped, he would probably fall down.
She turned the bolt and opened the door. “How would I have gotten in your apartment—and why would I want to?”
“You flashed a beautiful smile at Alfie. Don’t tell me you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.”
Celisse hesitated. Hearing him say that… She wasn’t sure how to react.
He pushed the door open a bit further and slid past her into the apartment. She didn’t think to stop him until he was already past her. She turned and looked at him standing in the middle of her little living room, like a storm cloud in her usually calm and cloudless space. This small, cheap apartment was the first place she had ever lived where she felt completely comfortable.
She realized he was looking at her, not at her eyes. She crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you want?”
His jaw tightened again, and he met her eyes like lightning flashing across the sky. “Don’t ask me why in the hell you’d want to be in my apartment.”
It took her a second to realize he was answering her previous question.
“What did you think you’d find?” he asked.
“Certainly not stacks of hundred-dollar bills.”
“It’s none of your goddamn concern how much money I have and why. Stay out of my business.”
“My best friend’s boyfriend was murdered, and then the accused slips me a note that says things aren’t what they seem. What did you think I was going to do?”
He paused, and the glare in his expression that had about blinded her a few seconds ago dulled to the glower of the moon in a clouded sky. He turned and looked around her apartment—her TV stand with a couple movies on top, the potted plant next to the sliding glass doors, her one pathetic attempt at gardening, and then over to the bookshelf where he started reading titles.
She stood next to him. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Does it annoy you?” He took a book from the shelf and flipped through its pages. “Someone going through your things, invading your privacy?”
Celisse snatched the book out of his hand, before he realized what it was.
“Are you pissed yet?” he asked.
“I wonder how it would look to the court if the police were called on you the same day you posted bail.”
He took a step toward her, and she backed up with her hands in guard position.
He stopped, and his voice was inside out from what it had been. “I would never hurt you.”
“You were arrested for murder today.”
His expression sobered, like fog pulling across a jagged cliff face. “I’m sorry. I never meant to scare you.” He walked across her living room, out the door, and down the stairs.
M. S. Kaye has won several writing awards and has been published in literary journals. She is a 4th-degree black belt and certified instructor of Songahm Taekwondo. A transplant from Ohio, she resides in Jacksonville, FL with her husband, Corey, where she does her best not to melt in the sun.
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