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.

PKO_0008514 SICK GUY“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.)

PKO_0001507 tired pink robeAnother 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.



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

  1. My first gut reaction is to tell and not show, too. I need to get better about catching this . . . thanks for the reminder!

    • I am trying very hard to NOT allow myself to just type something out the easy way first. It makes for a slower first draft, but I have a hard time seeing SVT issues in my own work.

  2. Yes, I feel certain I’ve failed in this area😀
    Thanks for sharing. I know I should use the search feature on Word to find all these, I just am so SICK of my manuscript by the time I get to this point. Any help with that problem?

    • Getting sick of your manuscript is a problem, but I find that using the search feature takes each paragraph out of context, and it is easier to focus in on a problem when not engaged with the story. At least this works for me. That does not make this part of the process any less painful.

  3. This is a great example of something I learned with my critique group. ‘Tell, then show’ was a guilty little habit of mine and even though I catch myself slipping every now and then, it’s fair easier to spot than once it was. 🙂

  4. Do you think this habit comes from early school writing instruction? You know, teachers say, write a sentence, then explain or “prove” it with details?
    Thanks for the tip about “feel/felt/feeling” good thing to watch for

  5. ummm…yeah…I will get this right sooner or later LOL

  6. I see where you’re coming from and I’m still struggling with tell vs show. However, I might add that to successfully show, context is important. Even vital. In your example, if we were to leave out the part about having studied all day because it was too telly, then without context “Magellan dragged his feet as he walked home…” could suggest he may not have been tired at all but perhaps didn’t want to go home for fear of something awaiting him such as a punishment or another undesirable task.
    I don’t know. I might be struggling for the same reasons as jcckeith!

  7. I am absolutely guilty of telling and then showing. I think it is my scientific background – I feel the need to state something and then back it up with evidence. I suppose the saying is just as true for writing as it is in science – ‘let the evidence speak for itself.’