Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nugget: Check Your Sleeve

Today's writing tip nugget is also courtesy of Deborah Halverson's SCBWI National Conference break-out session, The Ultimate Checklist. (The first nugget I blogged about is here.)

This is one nugget I really struggle to tuck into my belt, by the way.

It's called Check Your Sleeve.

You've probably heard that old saying: Don't wear your heart on your sleeve? Well, your characters shouldn't, either.

Check your manuscript for points where you are making direct statements of feeling or your character is analyzing his actions. This is an area where writers tend to TELL instead of SHOW.

For instance:
He felt hurt. Why wouldn't Dennis listen to him?

Sure you can use the Find and Replace tool in Word to locate all your feels and felts. (That's a great idea, by the way.)

But what about this one:

The words stung. Dennis didn't even seem to be listening.

See how he's analyzing Dennis' feelings? See how he's telling us his own feelings?

I think I have a lot of this type of emotion-telling in my manuscript. In fact, I shiver when I think how much I might actually have. And it's nothing a Find and Replace tool can locate for me.

What would be better than the above two examples? The best idea is to let your reader guess emotions from what your character says and does. Readers like to think. They like to figure things out.

Maybe something like this would be better:

Dennis didn't let me finish my sentence.
"You have no idea what you're talking about," he spat. He turned his back on me and stalked away.
I ducked my head behind my locker door, quick, before anybody passing in the hall had a chance to notice my Ferrari-red ears.  

Okay, probably my "good" example is not the greatest example in the history of writing, but the point is: let the reader feel what your character is feeling, without telling them about it.

If your character has an emotion, it's a common one to humankind. Remember that. Not one of us lives in a bubble. The genius comes when you can remind your reader of their own emotions by showing them your characters in specific situations that incite those same emotions.

Easier said than done, right?

Believe me I know.

Now that we all know, let's get back to those manuscripts and take them to the next level. (Or probably you already have and it's only me who struggles with this. *grin*)

So, how about you? Is this old news, something you've mastered, something you still struggle with?


  1. Thanks for the tip! It's definitely something I struggle with and I loved your examples. The second one definitely sounds like cheating (and a bit passive too).

    Have a great weekend!

  2. hi! im lenny and i was just at miss sharons blog. i saw in what you said that youre feeling sorta down and crying and i just want to send you a really BIG HUG!
    ...smiles from lenny

  3. Yes, Jackee, the passive part is another BIG problem of mine. I hadn't even thought of that when I wrote that example, but I bet I'm going to find a lot of those in my manuscript when I edit with this "rule" in mind. uggh. :) A writer's editing is never done!

    Lenny, that is so sweet of you! Thank you! I'm actually just being whiny because I had a whole wonderful summer with all my family and now school is starting up and I don't like it. But, wasn't it Shakespeare who said, "Better to have a summer be over than never to have a summer at all..."? (Loose paraphrase, ha ha) Thanks for your sweet words and your sunshine.


  4. Another great tip to keep in mind. It's one most of us struggle with.

    "A writer's editing is never done!" Sigh:)

  5. Don't you just love Deborah! I've been reading her blog since you introduced us. :)

    Great example!

    If you get a chance to check out Lenny, he's a great kid!!!! With a wonderful heart. I <3 Lenny!

  6. Oooh, this is something that always struggle with. It seems to sneak itself onto the pages. Thanks for another great reminder....


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