Cheating

There are many ways to cheat, some affect life more than others. Some not at all. You can cheat yourself, you can cheat others and you can cheat death… well maybe.

Cheating is a broad word that applies to so much and so many things. For this blog’s purpose I’m going to talk about one. and it’s not the scandalous one either. I’ll save that for another post.

I’m talking about when someone avoids telling emotional state by putting emotions in dialogue instead of showing them. I discuss Show VS. Tell a lot. There is a reason for it and I’ve talked a lot about that too. Showing draws the reader in, it makes them feel welcome and a part of the story. I strive for showing emotions constantly after all nobody likes to be told how to feel about a character or the situation. I digress.

To show emotion I use action and action tags following dialog. I also use visual emotional words.

“I don’t think I can.” Valery said sadly.
VS.
“I don’t think I can.” Valery looked down and sighed.

The temptation to add an emotion description after ‘sighed’ is strong, but it’s unnecessary. Sure changing it adds word count, but instead of telling the reader she is sad, I showed them she is sad. The point is to keep the emotion ‘tell’ out of the narrative.

Now that is how I address emotional telling outside the conversation. Not as easy as it seems, that’s why people (including myself) revert to telling emotion. (Until I revise the crap out of it)

So what happens when someone follows the rule of Show not tell, and cheats? Well it looks something like this.

“I’m sad, I don’t think I can.” Valery said. 

Okay so the emotion is out of the narrative like it’s supposed to be. And it’s totally okay for a person to say how they feel. From time to time. By that I mean, like almost never. Also the ‘Valery said.’ falls under “he said – she said” taglines. Less is more on the dialogue tags (IMO). They are a verbal period that hammers the end of a sentence and too much can  punch the flow. I digress again.

The question is, how does cheating by plopping ’emotion telling’ into dialogue affect a story?

They pulled the car up to the house.
“I’m sad, don’t think I can.” Valery said.
Jackson smiled reassuringly. “I know it’s hard and you miss your friend.”
“I do. Ugh and I’m angry and frustrated that I can’t do anything to help her.”
“I can see it makes you angry. I don’t like when you’re upset, It bothers me.” Jackson said quietly. “Maybe there is something you can do indirectly to help.” 
“Like what?” 
“By doing what you came here to do Valery. You are a kind and loving friend to take care of her house and collect her mail until she get’s back. Come on, let’s go get Sasha’s mail so I can take you home and make you feel better.” He said suggestively.
“That sounds like a fair deal and makes me feel better.” She said with a sly smile. 

Gag. Okay, sure people announce how they feel in real life, but as a reader I don’t care to read them say it too often. It does not lend to my vivid imagery I create from words. I want more from a story than to be told she’s sad and angry and frustrated. For me I seem to become wordy when I start telling, the trouble is the wordiness isn’t quality, it’s filler and repetitive. (Yes this is what revision is for, review it, see it and fix it.)

Valery’s smile faded as the car pulled up to the house. “I don’t think I can.” 
Jackson rubbed her shoulder. “I know it’s hard to miss a friend.”
“I do. Ugh.” She slammed her fist on her knee. “I hate that I can’t do anything to help her.”
Jackson took her fist in his hands and kissed it. “Maybe there is something you can do indirectly to help.” 
She looked out the window at the empty house. “Like what?”
“By doing what you came here to do Valery; she’ll appreciate it when she get’s back. Come on, let’s go get Sasha’s mail so I can take you home and make you feel better.” His eyes slid over her body causing her breath to catch in her throat.
“Sounds like a fair deal.” She smiled slyly and opened the car door.

I have no idea if you agree or not, unless you tell me in the comments, but I think it’s safe to say by removing the emotions from the dialogue (where they shouldn’t have been in the first place) and showing them made a difference. It took some editing and I changed it a fair bit, but to show requires more information. It allows the reader to feel the story not just read it helping the reader to relax into the story.

My advice about cheating by telling emotion in dialogue too often.
Telling is telling and nobody likes to be told what to do and how to feel about a situation, therefore a reader wont either. 

-Sheryl

Other posts that are very much related to this one
Show and tell

Tag! You’re it.

No “Filter Word” Parking Here

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved
Relax

Show and tell

Emotions are something we deal with constantly everyday. When I first started writing I told the emotions instead of showing them. ‘She was angry.’ This was lazy and hard to read. I read blogs, articles and some of the books out there such as Master lists for writers and the Emotion thesaurus. Why? Because showing emotion is a lot harder than saying it. Also because emotion generally fell within conversation and ended up at taglines. I read blogs, books and articles Learning more every time.

Here is a telling emotional conversation from my rough draft.

“Are you calling me stupid?” Erin said angrily.

Sam was glad the beds were between them and felt brave for some strange reason.

“No, but you’re acting it.” Sam said forcefully. She did not want to do this, but she was committed and had had enough of her nasty attitude.

“Insult me again Sam and you’ll be sorry.”

“I won’t be sorry Erin, because I didn’t insult you.”

“You did!” Erin shouted angrily.

“No, I said your actions were stupid.”

“It’s the same dammed thing.” She growled.

 As discussed in Tag you’re it this is a rough draft loaded with taglines and I’m telling the emotion not showing it. This is hard to read. Here is the correction.

 “Are you calling me stupid?” Erin took a step forward curling her lips back.

Sam glanced down at the two beds between them. “No, but you’re acting it.” She squared her feet and locked eyes.

This was not an ideal situation. Exhaustion and stress were wearing them all down. Tolerance for Erin’s rude comments is wearing thin.

“Insult me again and you’ll be sorry.”

“I won’t be sorry, because I didn’t insult you.” Sam took a deep breath exhaling slowly.

“You did!”

“No Erin. I said your actions were stupid.”

“It’s the same dammed thing.” Erin clenched and shook her fist slightly.

Emotions are hard to show, the key is to take a moment to think about how you feel and what do you do when you are excited? Do you jump up and down clapping your hands melodramatically? Does everyone? Not likely. There are those that do, but usually its things such as grinning, smiling, whooping, punching the air or clenching fists under the chin and hunching your shoulders. Everyone reacts differently and it’s important that your characters do too. Sam stays calm and defensive. Erin is prone to aggression and rage. However when Sam gets upset she reacts by walking away or pursing her lips while Erin would insult or lash out. Someone else might strike out physically without provocation.

My advice about emotions.
Like actions, they need to be shown not told. Watch others, ask others how they react to emotions. If you’re stumped try a resource, there are some great books out there that have better ideas.

While tricky, showing emotion draws the reader in and creates empathy. People read to experience a story so give them one to dive into.

-Sheryl

More about taglines
Tag! You’re it.

My thoughts on Filter words
No “Filter Word” Parking Here

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved