“Gentle Tell” is NOT OKAY in your manuscript. Are YOU guilty of lazy writing? — AKA “I am really sorry!”

If you’ve ever had the misfortune opportunity to have a beta-read from me, you’ll know that I am a show verses tell barracuda. I point it out everywhere. (As I should, or I’m not doing my job)

Occasionally I will mark something as “gentle tell” and say it will probably pass, but the section could be stronger.

I had a section like this in ASHES IN THE SKY. I knew it was a form of gentle tell, meaning it could have been broadened, but since it was not a super important scene, I summarized it a bit to move on to the more exciting stuff. Since it was the only scene I brushed over, and I only did it once in the entire book, I figured I was in the clear.

WRONG

The sole purpose of the scene was to show where the main character got her schedule from when arriving for her first day back to school after a long absence. This is the exact text from my original submitted manuscript. Mind you, this got past several editors:

Throwing my backpack over my shoulder, I stopped at the office and got my schedule and locker assignment. They didn’t try to rustle me into any more assemblies, thank goodness.

(See the end of this post if you’d like to see the revised version)

As I said, this got past a few editors, but it was bounced back by the senior editor at the final read through. In this case, she was my personal show verses tell barracuda.

Paraphrasing her comments, she said:

“Don’t take the easy way out and tell us the obvious. What was it like going into the office? Did they treat her poorly, or were they extra nice? Give all the information to move the story forward without just telling us what we need to know.”

In other words – SHOW DON’T TELL

I was mortified. Once I really thought about it, I realized what a lazy paragraph I had written. I’ve heard of lazy writing before, and now I am wondering how many lazy things I have seen in people’s works that I glossed over as “gentle tell.”

Don’t let yourself fall into lazy writing.

If it is important enough to mention, then write it properly. Don’t muddy your manuscript with shortcuts.

swish swivel sparkle

In case you are interested, this is the scene that I replaced those two lines with. I think it is obvious how much better the written-out scene is.

***

I slipped through the door to the main office. Four students waited in line, but parted as I walked in. The last to move tugged the backpack on the girl standing first at the front desk. She spun and her lips formed an O before she scurried to the side.

“Ms. Martinez,” the lady behind the counter said. “Welcome back.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, umm, thanks. I need my schedule and locker assignment.”

She handed me a paper from the tray beside her. “Here you go. You have Kelessi for Advisory, room three eighty-five. Do you remember where that is?”

I nodded.

“You locker is in the senior wing, number ninety. The combination is on the last page of your packet.”

“Three eighty-five, Kelessi, ninety. Got it, thanks.”

I turned and looked up from my paperwork. The other people in the office lined the walls, giving me a wide berth.

Did I forget to wear deodorant or something?

***

Look through your own work.

Are you guilty of lazy writing?

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21 responses to ““Gentle Tell” is NOT OKAY in your manuscript. Are YOU guilty of lazy writing? — AKA “I am really sorry!”

  1. Yes, I’m guilty of lazy writing. Especially in my first draft. Of course, it’s difficult to know how much “show” to give when you’re basically transitioning. I, personally, think the first version from your manuscript is fine. It walked us to the next scene. Do I learn more in the rewrite? Sure. Everyone is tiptoeing around her and I want to know why. Shouldn’t they be in awe? After all, she saved the world from certain destruction.
    I’m looking forward to ASHES. Thanks for giving us a tiny glimpse of the fun to come. Some year 😦

    • Hi Sharon! I think the most important thing to consider, the more I think about it, is does a transition paragraph like the original throw the reader out of the story. I have to be honest with myself and say “yes”. Anything that reminds the reader that they are, in fact, reading and not inside the story living it is something I want to remove.

      • I hear what you’re saying, but honestly Jenn, I didn’t get that when I read the first cut. It was a smooth transition and didn’t throw me out of the story at all. I really think in this case, the story would have passed your readers with flying colors either way. The main thing is if you’re happy with it. If you are, then you’ve made the right decision. I applaud you for grumbling through and exceeding your expectations. 🙂

  2. At first I thought, “Jeez it’s just a bridge paragraph, and what about the added word count?” Then I thought, “Well, if it’s not important enough to expand, then it’s not important enough to keep. Might as well cut it.” In this case, both you and your editor thought it was important enough to expand. Out of context, I would have just cut it.

    Great example, Jen.

  3. Did you thank your editor for such great advice? It’s wonderful really that they took the time for a thoughtful comment on something that could have slid by.

  4. I do like the latter one better, but I wonder if it’s necessary since it’s a small scene. The expansion doesn’t really move the story forward nor does it say something new about the character. No offense, but I tend to skip over scenes like this that seem extraneous to me. Yes, it’s more descriptive, but more isn’t always better. I think that’s why so many people skipped it … because the scene ‘didn’t matter’. I wonder. Is this lazy writing or frugal writing? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

    As far as being a barracuda – you are and thank you. :-).

    • Gwen Stephens

      I was wondering the same, but without some more context, it’s hard to know how important this scene is in the big picture. I agree, more description isn’t always better.

      • Hi Gwen! Take a look at my reply to Jenny. In this case, it has to do with world building. And you are right, it’s hard to see out of context. In the scenes before, we see how the press reacts to her, and her family reacts to her, but I had glossed over the reactions of the peers. I think this new scene shows her situation beautifully.

    • Hi Jenny! It doesn’t say so much about Jess, but we do get a better feel about the “world”.
      In the next scene no one will sit by her. This new scene, with everyone backing away, emphasizes that.
      This also helps the “flow” in that it doesn’t feel like I am squishing in a transition for the sake of having a transition.
      To be honest, I grumbled, but after I wrote it all out, I had to agree with her. She was spot on.

      • Funny. It reminds me of the scene in Twilight when Bella enters the science class and sits next to Edward and he moves away from her. She smells her clothes and stuff, thinking she stinks. 🙂

  5. What a drastic difference! Now I need to start looking in my story, I know I have at least a couple of those spots! The hardest part, knowing how to show something and knowing what is tell and how it relates! I always seem to struggle with that.

    • I think we all do, Ravyn. I depend on my beta readers to help me see what I miss, and I have an army of them that reads one after another, because different people pick up on different things.

      • Yeah I am still working on creating that! I have a few writerly friends that help me, and a blooming critique group that I formed, so it is starting to come together. Seems I have a terrible time finding beta readers though! People say they want to read, but then I don’t hear from them after I give it to them, or am told, oh yeah, I just haven’t gotten to it yet.

        • Once you find someone you trust, hold on to them for dear life! I even beta read for people when I have nothing to give them in return hoping they will return the favor when I need it. I have a great pool of people I can count on (Thank goodness) but it did take me almost five years to build the relationships to this point. Have you tried Nathan Bransford’s website? I’ve found a few beta readers there.

          • No, I have never seen that one! Thanks, I will totally check it out! And I have actually created an account on scribophile and I honestly have had really good luck with it! Sometimes you get bad critters, but it has been a help to at least get different viewpoints. I also appreciate that you get people who read a different genre, which really helps prevent falling too heavy into a genre’s cliches…
            I also beta for people, because if you are not willing, it is even harder to get someone to do it for you! And yeah, I have been working to build Writing Posse for around five years, but it has been on MeetUp for I think one or two and it is finally starting to get members! And that will help!

            • I found a couple of betas on Nathan’s site as well. Scribophile has been a god-send, and the rest have come through recommendations from other betas or my teenager’s friends. Like Jennifer, the relationships have taken time to build, but it’s well worth it in the end. I also review books and hope someday the favor might be returned, but I don’t do it for paybacks. I do it because I love to do it. Reading new books, recommending them to the world. I find great satisfaction in promoting others more than myself.

              • Yeah I used to do a lot of reviews, I would get ARCs and review them and loved it! But once I started writing more, I didn’t have as much time to do that. I still read a lot, but I take a lot more time to read something I am reviewing, because I really like to put a lot of thought into it. Maybe I just need to tell more people I write and see what happens *laughs*