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.
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.
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?”
“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?