Lesson Twelve from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: How Are Your Characters Feeling Today?

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?  You can also click “Rant Worthy Topics” in my right navigation bar.  Choose “Gold Mine Manuscript” to see all the lessons to date.

“Magellan walked back from the library slowly, feeling exhausted from studying all day.”

Sorry, Gellan.  You’re not allowed to “feel exhausted”.  I have totally failed you as a mother author.  (Don’t you feel like their parents sometimes?)  Anyway… .

According to this publisher, Feeling, Felt, and Feel are very telling words.  They are right up there with “look” for setting off the “no-no” meter.  Instead of using these words, we should be showing our readers how our characters feel instead.  Give us actions that show us that he’s tired without telling us that he is.

Errghhh. Okay…

“Magellan dragged his feet as he walked home from the library.  He could barely keep his eyes open after studying all day.”

Okay, they are forgiven.  Point taken.  The second one is better.  The word count does suffer a little in this example, but I could probably have done better if I gave it a little more thought. (They might even consider “barely keep his eyes open” as tell. too.  I could have probably done better there, as well.)

Another bad telly sentence that I would have been guilty of before seeing the Gold Mine Manuscript was something like:

“Magellan was exhausted.  He dragged his feet all the way home”
There is no reason to say “Magellan was exhausted” and SHOW that he is exhausted right afterwards.  Just delete that first part, and stick with the showing part and it will sound much better.

This tip, will definitely help make your manuscript stand out from the others.  I still have to stop myself from doing this.  For some reason, I naturally “tell” First, and then I show.  I don’t know why.  I’m starting to catch myself, but sometimes it’s tough.

Hope this one helps.

If you don’t get it, please drop me a line, and I will discuss in more depth. I think this is a really good point that a lot of people seem to be stumbling with (me included).  I saw it a lot critiquing a recent 250 word contest.  Set yourself apart by trying to avoid it.

Jennifer Eaton

13 responses to “Lesson Twelve from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: How Are Your Characters Feeling Today?

  1. Pingback: Lesson Thirty from a Manuscript Red Line: Finale! Summing it all up | Jennifer M Eaton

  2. Shelley Szajner

    I’ve been reading your wonderful posts from the Gold Mine Series (late comer I am, I am) but first and foremost, I’d like to thank you for posting such informative tidbits of information! Gold Mine is right—this stuff is too good not to post! Now onto the topic at hand. I, too, suffer from the “show don’t tell” malady. In the process of learning the craft, I’ve gotten better at ‘showing vs. telling,’ but after reading this post, I realizes that I have too many ‘feel, feeling’ words in my story. I’m learning that description is everything in writing, and the key is knowing how to do it well. That only comes with practice, and lots of it!

    • Hello, Shelly. Yes, it takes a lot of practice, but eventually it will become second nature. You will begin to feel yourself write it, and it will scream back at you when you read it. It is mainly a case of training yourself to see it.

  3. I see a big edit in my future, even the ones already thrown onto Samshwords.

  4. Now I want to go back through my draft and weed out any permutations of “look” or “feel.” I know they’re there… sneaky words…

    Great post, thank you.

  5. Context is everything…I just searched through some pdf’s (public domain works by famous authors) and found many instances of “looks” and “looking”. The sentences were beautifully written and didn’t suffer…I think because they didn’t revolve around the idea of “looking” but around another idea, and the looking became subservient —

    Ford Maddox Ford: Yes, that is how I most exactly remember her, in that dress, in that hat, looking over her shoulder at me so that the eyes flashed very blue—dark pebble blue …

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  7. I wish there was a program we could plug these words in…then when a squiggly line shows up, we know to begin work.


  8. Great reminder. I feel tired just thinking of editing for this. I mean, I can’t stop yawning, my eyes ache, and my pillow is calling me. Either that, or I should drink some coffee. Thanks, as always, for sharing.

  9. Good morning, Jennifer! Are flying body parts permitted on Halloween eve? If yes, writers ALERT! You have a short window of opportunity to get eyes popping out of your characters’ heads, to throw looks that would kill, to bind your H/H for all eternity. (Duct tape is best, btw.)

    Doing the monster mash over here on all the phrases that might ping an editor’s “X” button. Great post series!

    Want to guess what I learned this week? No? I’m telling you anyway. Tiffany Lawson Inman (Naked Editor) has (gasp!) “gaze” on her search-and-destroy list for power writing. Why? Because there is something at the end of that gaze. “Show what your character sees” is her advice. ACK attack! I tried it. It works.

    Did I already say GREAT SERIES? Yes? Never mind, then.

    • Wow. Sounds like someone’s been in the Halloween candy already!

      I saw someone try to remove the “looks” be replacing them with gazes. I said it’s pretty much the same concept. They growled at me. Some of this is really hard and almost impossible to do ALL THE TIME.

  10. I still think the whole ‘look’ thing is silly. Every book I’ve read lately has people ‘looking’. In fact, the book I’m reading right now by a well-known YA author and published by Waterbrook Press (div. of Random House) has, within three pages, said, ____ stole a glance at his mother, ____ looked at his plate; ______ looked at his hands, _____ dabbed her tears and looked behind her; ______ looked at his feet.

    Sometimes, you can’t avoid the look. It’s what the character is doing.

    And isn’t all narrative ‘telling”?

    My other big pet peeve is the whole ‘eye’ thing. For some reason, some publishers and editors are so picky they won’t even let you write “their eyes met”, because, in their opinion, how do eyes physically meet? But the reader understands what this means. They aren’t dumb. In my opinion, it is so much more awkward and far less romantic to read and write, ‘Their gaze met’. I’m sorry. It just doesn’t conjure up any emotion within me.

    Sometimes I wonder if the ‘experts’ don’t take the ‘rules’ a bit too far. 😉 Then again, maybe my ‘looking’ is why I’m not published yet.