A lot of times we have our characters feel something or react to something and why they do it is very clear in our minds. But those reasons don't make it fully to the page, so for the reader, those actions aren't so clear. Here's an example:
"I'm sure Jeatar can find someone to fill in for you." He glanced at Jeatar, who paused and looked at me as if unsure whether or not to agree to that.
I bristled. "There is no one to fill in for me. His people are spread thin enough as it is."The "I bristled" is what inspired this article, because I can see one of my beta readers marking that and asking "why is she upset?" There's nothing in the scene to show why Nya would find this suggestion annoying. It seems like a perfectly reasonable suggestion, especially in the context of this scene. She has some issues with the person saying it, but not enough to warrant her reaction based solely on that. Nya's reasons for being upset by this aren't coming through.
What this section needed was a little bit more from Nya that explained why she was upset. So I added:
I bristled. I liked helping out. At least I was doing something useful and not just waiting for news. "There is no one to fill in for me. His people are spread thin enough as it is. If I'm not there everyone else has to work harder, and that's not fair"Now the bristling makes more sense. She's being asked to stop doing something she feels is valuable, that she wants to do, even needs to do, and avoiding that something also affects her sense of fairness.
One of my common rough draft tricks is to use phrases like I frowned, I smiled, I groaned, I shivered, etc. as placeholders. Sometimes I flesh out those areas, but if the scene is flowing along and I'm eager to get it put down on paper, I skip the internalization. But most times, that internalization is needed to really get where the protagonist is coming from.
Try looking through your story for emotional reaction words, especially if you've gotten feedback with questions why a character felt or did something. Look for those two-word sentences. I smiled, he groaned, she frowned, I bristled, she chilled, he shivered, I jumped, he twitched, she gasped, etc. Now ask yourself:
- Is it clear why they're having this reaction by what's in the text?
- Would a little internalization (or dialog) help clarify what the protagonist is feeling?
Is the emotion clear if you took out that I-verb phrase?
Sometimes placeholder words can go once you've fleshed out the section or did enough the first time and the extra words are redundant. Maybe there's a stronger way to show the same feeling. I smiled is pretty generic, and your character might have a trait that shows her happiness that's much more her.
And of course, sometimes the I-verb phrase is exactly right for the paragraph. Adding more would bog down the scene and maybe even add some redundancy.
There are no hard and fast rules here, but this is one of those little tricks that can help you pinpoint areas that might need some tweaks.
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound