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