Hey writers—I’m in a funny phase of novel drafting right now where I’m really only doing the prewriting—which is an odd style of drafting wherein, for me, I basically write only dialogue and statements of movement and the very most important bits of inner dialogue. (As in, no one is opening car doors or setting down their coffee cups, and there are also no quotation marks, and they could be anywhere as far as setting is concerned.)
Writing this way keeps my eyes on the prize—basically it’s what do I need to know to really write this scene, which kind of tricks me into what does the reader really need to know. I’ll add some of the set dressing later, but I find that when I write this way, the end result is tighter and cleaner.
Here’s an example I found that ultimately became Chapter 3 of Playing the Witch Card. It’s actually pretty accurate:
Flair is desperately shutting door on what she’s done, locking up wildly as if she could lock it inside, back door, Josie never comes to front, running from a ghost, you know better than to make a joke like that in Rattleboro Well did you No Just of herself How was day Sucked Customers 2 if you count Loretta What did she want? She comes in all the time actuall and when she does it’s usually a little better, I think it’s all that Halloween horror That’s what people are here for but then my customers all prefer the alley it’s part of the mystique Yep those rebel tattoos that x percent of the population has But not you When I think of something I want tattooed on me you’ll be the first to know Sometimes that’s my job, do you want to know what tattoo you should have I do not. Stop it. Change subject Loretta wanted me to make Halloween cookies And I suppose you said no. you should. If anything would change your luck I kow you hate it. But I don’t see how you’re going to be here and not be part of it. Met by lucie on the doorstep. I’m going back to Chicago. What happened today Stupid Halloween, stupid party Parties are nothing but halloween’s a big deal around here. Your mom just got asked to do something for the Rattlebones. Even lucie looked up at that Really? Everyone wants to do that, Annabel’s always telling people that her mom practically runs it but I don’t think she gets to be out there---could I help? She says she’s not doing it I don’t want to You have to I’ll think about it If I can’t do that for Halloween I want to go back to Chicago Not happening, we agreed, you’re here until we both go visit at thanksgiving (and she was hopeing not to do that) I’ll think about it I guess you’re doing Halloween I hate you. I’m not. But she knew she would.
There’s actually zero interiority in here, which forced me to add it later but only where the dialogue didn’t already convey it. Which leads me to today’s replay, which is one I needed: what’s the difference between showing—in internal dialogue—and telling? Bc we don’t want to info dump, and yet also our characters need to reflect on their past or think things they don’t say. This episode is me, Sarina and Jess talking about the difference. I hope it’s as helpful to you as it was to me!
Original show notes
The whole “am I showing, or am I telling” inner debate can be tough in every part of a novel, memoir or nonfiction-with-elements-of-memoir draft. You don’t want to “tell” about the action. You don’t want to “tell” about the setting. And goodness knows you don’t want to “tell” what the character is feeling.
Except when you do. Sometimes a little telling, in the form of inner dialogue, is exactly what the reader needs to feel a part of the story, not just the happenings. Sarina, Jess and KJ are all in for a conversation about how to immerse a reader in emotions, reactions, fears, self-doubt and even self-deception.
Got an inner dialogue question you’re wrestling with? Try sharing it in our Facebook group—and for other burning questions, small and large, email us at email@example.com. We can’t respond to every email, but we might answer your question on an upcoming show—or even invite you on for a little coaching.
Links and quotes from the pod:
From In Her Boots:
“Jasmine was still a little leery of the animals, so I set out to charm her with them. **Here’s what my editor said here: Maybe Rhett could think here about how the animals always made her feel good and she wants to impart some of that to Jasmine, who is stretching so far outside her comfort zone to help Rhett? This could be a nice friendship moment to show Rhett caring about Jasmine.** After we fed the entire crew—which would make any human popular—I gave Jas Brownie’s curry comb and showed her the places where he loved to be scratched, and together we groomed the little pony to a sheen, Jas brushing while I pulled his mane and tail. Jas ran inside and emerged with a bandana that we tied in his forelock, giving him a rakish look suited to his personality, and at the same time we both pulled out our phones.”
Here’s the revision:
“Some barn time would absolutely help me feel better. If Jas was a little more comfortable with them, I knew she would feel the same way, and I wanted that for her. I didn’t care about the Maggie part of it. I’d overheard her on the phone with Zale last night, and I wanted her to know that the farm was a refuge for her no matter what. After we fed the entire crew—which would make any human popular—I gave Jas Brownie’s curry comb and showed her the places where he loved to be scratched, and together we groomed the little pony to a sheen, Jas brushing while I pulled his mane and tail. Jas ran inside and emerged with a bandana that we tied in his forelock, giving him a rakish look suited to his personality, and at the same time we both pulled out our phones.”
From We Are Not Like Them:
p. 113 “I’m relieved to see that the crowd really is peaceful, so many faces filled with righteous conviction and purpose. Nonetheless, my cynicism kicks in. Ain’t nothing changed but the music. All the clever signs and chants, the people who showed up just so they could post it to their social media, what does it add up to?”
From Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake:
p. 161 “She laughed and then hoped he’d meant her to.”
p. 179 “Rosaline didn’t want to jinx it, and possibly she was reading too much into one ambiguously encouraging look from Marianne Wolvercote, but she thought she could do okay this week. Possibly even well? After all, she had a strong concept. And the part of her that used to do homework under test conditions was now secretly rather glad to get to practice in an unfamiliar kitchen.”
Beach Read by Emily Henry
KJ: We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride & Jo Piazza
Sarina: The Enneagram in Love: A Roadmap for Building and Strengthening Romantic Relationships by Stephanie Barron Hall
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