Saturday, August 07, 2010

I'm embarrassed to admit . . .



I’m driving my critique partners crazy. Well, at least I am myself.

Last month I took a course that opened my eyes to one of my writing habits.

Naming emotions. Like saying: Anger filled her features or embarrassment showed in her eyes, or doubt swirled in her chest.

We’ve all done it but it wasn’t until I was showed that by doing this I was pulling my writing out of a deeper POV. And that’s not what I’m aiming for.

Think of it this way. Instead of saying she was filled with embarrassment if I said instead; her eyes shifted to the ground while her cheeks turned red as the tulips behind her—isn't this showing the same emotion?

I just read two books and not once did I find this kind of writing. I hate to say this but when I name the emotions it is just plain easier. I’ll go as far as saying it's lazy writing on my part. Not what I want to do.

How about you? Have you picked up some good or bad writing habits you’ve seen others do?

48 comments:

Karen Lange said...

I've gotten better at showing vs. telling, but I still think I need work. Getting there though:) I think we are always learning something, aren't we?
Have a great weekend,
Karen

Shirley said...

Well, I guess I do the same. Two areas where I am weak, weak, weak: naming something instead of showing it and telling too much instead of showing it and telling too much background. Oh well...

K9friend said...

I've got plenty of bad habits, but one of the hardest to correct has been repeating myself. This is especially hard for me to catch in a longer piece.

Pat
www.critteralley.blogspot.com

Nehha N Josshi said...

Glad you spoke about it. Many a times I do feel the urge to use words instead of making the reader imagine the emotion I want to showcase. Would keep that in mind because doing it the harder way creates more charm, according to me:)

Nehha N Josshi said...

By the way, I missed out on this one...the pic is so apt! Very thoughtful of you:)

Heather Sunseri said...

Yeah, I've been known to do that. I've got many bad habits I'm trying to break. I've found that admitting to them is the first step! :)

Susan said...

Hi Terri: Telling instead of showing is something I definitely have done.

The other part of writing that's hard to avoid at times is using passive tenses. I am more cognizant of using them now, however. Susan

Susan said...

P.S. Oh no! I think the term "is using" is on the passive side. Better to say, "It is better to avoid using passive tenses!" ha! Susan

patti said...

Terri, I love your honesty and yet humor!
Sigh. Camy Tang about died trying to teach me this.
The funny thing? Julie Lessman and I are teaching THIS VERY THING (and others) at a writing conference!!!(I'm glad she's the lead instructor)!!!!!!!

kathy taylor said...

I've been pondering this situation. Years ago, as an English major I learned to show not tell. I taught the same to my students. But with 85,000 words, I haven't shown every time. What I wonder is this: if we show EVERY time, how long will the manuscript be? And how will the reader respond? I am looking for a critique partner. I signed up for the ACFW group, but I'm looking more for a partner than a group. Sigh... Or should I say this? Kathy took a deep breath, inhaling air filled with tiny dust particles and allergens, and exhaled it before it fully entered her lungs. Had one been sitting in the same room with her, he or she may have noticed a somewhat suppressed whine.

Lin Floyd said...

revising never ends and improvement is always possible as we learn more...

Cindy R. Wilson said...

In my opinion, there is a time and place for naming emotion because sometimes it's just stronger that way. However, I agree that most of the time, it's better to describe the emotion.

Funny, I'm working on that in my story right now! And the lovely critique partner who pointed out all those instances isn't driving me crazy at all :D Actually, I really appreciate it. Have a great weekend!

Jan Cline said...

I was just given advise about deep POV and I was looking for an example...thanks for the timely post. So glad you are going deeper with your craft in general.

Lydia Kang said...

That is a brilliant thought, deep POV vs shallow POV. Thanks for teaching me something!

Jolene said...

My favorite part is describing that angst. I rarely use the words for an emotion.
It is fun to read others' insights. There's always something there to help me clean up my own writing.

Heckety said...

Its really difficult to admit what you have here, and its also really difficult to accept a criticism gracefully. THAT would be my lousy habit. Perhaps the more I read you some of your grace will rub off on me???

And its difficult to see one's own poor habits too...I think I have picked up a lot of lazy piano playing habits and that seriously bothers me.

Nancy said...

I recently read a book where the author told, showed, and told again - all about the same incident. I had to forgive her, even though her whole book premise was wild and I had to get used to it. She had great characters and guess what? I'm definitely going back for more.

Christine said...

I try to do this in blog posts, but sometimes it comes out so contrived. Takes a lot of practice to get it right--even for non-fiction.

You have learned so much this year, and you were already awesome! Congratulations!

BeckyJoie said...

I have a few dead words I get stuck using and I get hung up on self-editing. Maybe I'm an editor instead of a writer. I'll have to mull that over. LOL. I love your posts and your honesty, Terri, as always.

Kenda said...

Thanks for sharing, Terri--a great post that will send me back to my mss to check out how I tell about emotions instead of showing them. My weaknesses include passive instead of active, and too many "its."

colbymarshall said...

My bad habits: "got" "just" "just "just"
One I've picked up on someone else: Reminding me far too much that the MC was doing something she ought not to be. I got it the first 28 times ;-)

Paul Greci said...

Writing is such an evolutionary process. It's cool to have those epiphany moments when you see a new way to do something, or you notice something in your writing that you really want to work on.

At the same time, you are developing your unique style and voice.

It's an amazing journey. Thanks for sharing that part of yours.

Bad habits: In early drafts my characters get neck aches from nodding their heads som much:-)

Rose Mary said...

I own that same bad habit, Terri, and it is a hard one to break. I usually do a lot of weeding out of those type phrases when I edit. I don't even notice it when I'm writing, so it's something I'm going to have to keep working on!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Terri..I hope I am getting better at writing, by letting go of all the silliness: like 'mischief danced in her eyes,' and the telling that I was doing earlier. Nowadays I am quite brutal when I revise and edit.

Kathryn Magendie said...

I have my own pet peeves or "rules" that are my own personal rules - I break a lot of rules, but I also make sure I keep up with the rules (as much as I can) - so when I want to manipulate them, I do.

But mainly, give yourself a break - writing is a learning process -when I read back over things I wrote even three or four years ago I cringe -- I'm always learning, always practicing the craft, always trying to improve!

Hold my hand: a social worker's blog said...

Terri, thanks for your vote and comment on my story.

I was remembering the other day that I started blogging because you were the angel God sent with a unique message: "write it down!"

(((( hugs ))))

Doris Plaster

Warren Baldwin said...

I don't write fiction, so I can often name the emotion. But, even nonfiction writing can be strengthening by showing rather than telling. I'm learning that! This was a good post.

Sally said...

I sometimes get lost in the mechanics. A comma versus a semi-colon, etc.

Andrea said...

Just wanted to let you know I have an update on amden on arise 2 write.
Blessings,
andrea

Lynda Young said...

I name emotions all the time in my first draft. It is lazy...and it means I have a lot of work ahead of me when I edit ;) Occasionally I slow down and think up a different way of saying it, but all too often I want to keep going while the thoughts of the plot are still fresh. My inner editor screams out in agony ;)

Katie Ganshert said...

Great post, Terri! I think there's such a thing as going too far in the "good" direction though. Showing the emotion every time can be quite draining for the reader.

Hope your final reader liked your story and you can ship it off to your editor!

Just Be Real said...

Terri, thank you for sharing and thank you for your continued support of encouragement. Blessings dear.

Helen Ginger said...

It's so easy to pick up back habits. I venture to say we've all done it at one time or another. It's not always easy to see it.

Helen

Jen said...

Showing vs telling is still something I'm working on. I never realized how hard it was until my crit partners continue to tell me that I do very fancy telling. I suppose that means I'm almost there, waiting to jump over the threshold to freedom!

Why are bad habits so easy to pick up??

Sassy Granny ... said...

Interesting POV. It reminds me that it's best to let people draw their own conclusions, and not to flesh out too much for them. That way they "own" their own thoughts instead of trying to make mine theirs.

Blessings,
Kathleen

Linda Kage said...

Raising my hand and lowering my head. "Guilty here too," I'm mumbling.

Good post. This is definitely something I need to work on too. Thank you for the reminder.

Jackee said...

Sometimes it IS easier to name them and move on. But I find that I like a book that doesn't tell me how the MC's feeling but I pick it up (or guess it) from the dialogue. It's good to drive CPs crazy! That's how we all learn and grow. :o)

Have a great week, Terri!

Amie B said...

oh - one of my pet peeves is seeing "broken rules" (all the things we've been told NOT to do) in published books. i see it all the time. drives me nuts!

but yeah...i'm guilty of breaking the rules myself.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Oh dear. How long do you have? My #1 fault is writing in passive rathter than active voice, but I am improving.

You are, too, Terri. Don't give up on yourself. We haven't. God always finishes what He starts, and He'e the author of the gift in you.

Love,
Jen

Deb Shucka said...

I love adverbs. :-)

And I challenge your use of the word "lazy" - I don't see you as a lazy writer at all.

T. Anne said...

I'm not completely against naming your emotions. Perhaps using this technique sparingly will offset the sin your committing here. ;) I do this myself sometimes.

Erin MacPherson said...

I write non-fiction (which after reading this makes me realize how much EASIER it can be than writing a novel). My worst writing habit is reapeating the same idea/phrase throughout the book. I somehow tend to forget that I've already said something. Oops.

Susan Fields said...

I like to intersperse my dialogue with this speaker's movements, which is fine in moderation, but a girl can only shake her head, nod, and roll her eyes so many times before it starts getting annoying.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Terri -

I'm learning, but I slip-up on occasion. A search for emotion words might be helpful.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Julie Musil said...

It IS so much easier, isn't it? I learned this part about showing instead of telling through a writing course I took.

Even when I'm in my first draft stage, I try to be careful not to tell. Plus, I have to be careful about using active verbs. That's another weakness of mine!

Hey, the good thing is, you have people in your corner working with you on this stuff. And I'm sure you help them in many ways, too!

Jody Hedlund said...

I think this is a great "rule" but we can take it too far. We can have some kind of emotional response inside the characters head, their narrative thoughts about a situation, how it's emotionally impacting them. When we focus only on the physical aspect (i.e. red face, looking at ground, etc.) we might end up leaving out the deeper feelings. I think it's good to find a balance somehow!

Margo Berendsen said...

I just discovered this one in my writing, too! I really need to get more organized and make list of all the things I need to check for and fix. Right now this is at the top!

Jill said...

Just when I think I've found all of my writing flaws, I discover yet more. Oh, well. I have to keep reminding myself that writing is an art, and art is rife with imperfections. I love the picture!