This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
By Anna Bell
We’re told by pretty much everyone that the golden rule of writing a novel is ‘show not tell’, I’ve read many a writer’s advice piece about it and even had my editor point to sections of my novel that needed a rewrite saying it. But how literally do you have to take it? Do you have to show everything?
I recently got a book back from my freelance editor, and something that struck me were her comments about missing movements of my characters. Comments appeared in the margin like: how did they get on the street? They were standing in their office before and they haven’t appeared to move. I read these comments and immediately thought that the reader should be able to fill in the blanks and use their imagination. But then I wondered if these were errors that the reader noticed. Are characters that magically teleport through chapters as irritating as typos?
The following banner is an affiliate one. That means Writing Tips Oasis receive a small % of the sale if you purchase The Novel Factory, but at no extra cost to you:
Playing my book out literally in my head was really interesting. It was like I’d been half writing some scenes. Often I assume readers will know that some scenes take place over a passage of time. That they would automatically know that, in a bar scene, they probably bought a drink; popped to the loo, and that you’re not going to be reading the whole conversation the characters would have had over a long period. It made me more mindful of suggesting there had been a passage of time and also about how I described the characters actions.
I think the problem I sometimes have with my stories is that I see them playing out in my mind as I write them. I know what my characters look like, what their mannerisms are and I know the backdrop I place them against. I think in some cases I forget that I need to help the reader to see this too; they need some clues to know what they are imagining.
I also believe I find this harder to do when I am writing in the third person. When you’re writing in the first person, it is easier to naturally describe what the characters are doing around them, as you’re describing a world through their eyes. I know this should be the same when I write in the third person, but when I’m in the first person, it’s almost like I become that character when I write it. In the third person, I feel I’m more divorced from the characters.
Am I losing the writing plot? Do you ever imagine your books literally? Do you think it’s okay to omit details for your reader to fill in? Do you find it easier to describe the details of your story when writing in a particular narrative style?