Saturday, May 21

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Show or Tell?

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Six

Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through July 2.

This week’s question:

I've finished the first draft and am reading through trying to find where I've been Telling rather than Showing. I'm not convinced that I've found all the instances even in the first chapter, let alone further in. Any suggestions would be welcome.

Market/Genre: Paranormal Romance

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

“Look, Mommy, there's a star.”

Jenna lifted her head and followed her daughter's finger, raised to the sky. The wind made her eyes water, eyes that were gritty from another crap night with little sleep. Which had become the norm in the six months since Mike's death.

She managed to pull up an interested mommy voice from somewhere. “What, honey?”

“There. Look. A star. You don't normally see stars in the daytime.”

Jenna squinted at where her daughter was pointing. For the first time this week the sun was shining. Although the way the clouds were barreling in, there'd be more snow in Seattle by mid-morning. Another layer of slippy-slippy to add to the woes of the rush hour traffic crawling through the icy slush, tires swishing and crunching. “I can see it now. But I think you'll find that's a planet. Venus, I expect.” She pulled Amy close, comforted by her body heat. She gave her a one armed hug, her other hand encumbered by Amy's Frozen lunchbox. God, her little bones felt so fragile, even cushioned by the thick winter coat. “Come on, sweetheart. We'll be late for school if we don't get a move on.”

Amy was still looking up, her breath pluming in the cold air, reaching for the sky she was examining so closely. The wind whipped her hair across her face and she dragged a hand through it, pushed it out of her eyes.

Jenna reached out and hooked Amy's hair behind her ears. “You should really have your hair in a ponytail for school.”

“I don’t like ponytails. They pull.” Amy moved her hair back to where it had been. “Mrs Jarvis says stars are round, like the Sun. I wonder why they aren't star shaped.” She paused. Pushed her hair away again. “I bet she’d know."

Mrs Jarvis knew everything, according to Amy. Although elementary school teachers must seem the font of all knowledge when you were seven. Jenna frowned. Amy's interest in geometry had only come to the fore since Mike's death. Was his passing the catalyst? And did it matter? Maybe anything that took her daughter's mind off the searingly painful loss of her beloved daddy was a good thing.

My Thoughts in Purple:

“Look, Mommy, there's a star.”

Jenna lifted her head and followed her daughter's finger, raised to the sky. The wind made her eyes water, eyes that were gritty from another crap night with little sleep. Which had become the norm in the six months since Mike's death.

She managed to pull up an interested mommy voice from somewhere. “What, honey?”

“There. Look. A star. You don't normally see stars in the daytime.”

Jenna squinted at where her daughter was pointing. For the first time this week the sun was shining. Although the way the clouds were barreling in, there'd be more snow in Seattle by mid-morning. Another layer of slippy-slippy to add to the woes of the rush hour traffic crawling through the icy slush, tires swishing and crunching. “I can see it now. But I think you'll find that's a planet. Venus, I expect.” She pulled Amy close, [comforted by her body heat.] This has a minor tellish vibe She gave her a one armed hug, her other hand encumbered by Amy's Frozen lunchbox. God, her little bones felt so fragile, even cushioned by the thick winter coat. “Come on, sweetheart. We'll be late for school if we don't get a move on.”

Amy was still looking up, her breath pluming in the cold air, reaching for the sky she was examining so closely. The wind whipped her hair across her face and she dragged a hand through it, pushed it out of her eyes.

Jenna reached out and hooked Amy's hair behind her ears. “You should really have your hair in a ponytail for school.”

“I don’t like ponytails. They pull.” Amy moved her hair back to where it had been. “Mrs Jarvis says stars are round, like the Sun. I wonder why they aren't star shaped.” She paused. Pushed her hair away again. “I bet she’d know."

Mrs Jarvis knew everything, according to Amy. Although elementary school teachers must seem the font of all knowledge when you were seven. Jenna frowned. Amy's interest in geometry had only come to the fore since Mike's death. Was his passing the catalyst? And did it matter? Maybe anything that took her daughter's mind off the searingly painful loss of her beloved daddy was a good thing.

The question:

1. I've finished the first draft and am reading through trying to find where I've been Telling rather than Showing. I'm not convinced that I've found all the instances even in the first chapter, let alone further in. Any suggestions would be welcome.


I’d say you nailed it. I marked one teeny spot that could technically feel a little tellish—comforted by her body heat—because it explains that she’s comforted, it doesn’t show her feeling comforted, but that’s being super nitpicky. A little telling is fine as long as the narrative flows and the reader flows right along with it, and this does that.

(Here’s more on show don’t tell)

This felt like Jenna’s thoughts and her living her life, I didn’t really feel that she was explaining anything for the reader’s benefit. I felt in the scene with her.

Overall, an easy RLD today.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

6 comments:

  1. This was the first couple of hundred words or so from a WIP that's been on the go for the last two years. I've been struggling with Telling all the way through, knew it wasn't right but wasn't sure I knew enough to fix it. I really appreciate the feedback, it's encouraged me to go through all the other scenes now, identify Telling and hopefully fix it!

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  2. I read it as the mother being comforted by her daughter's body heat.

    I enjoyed the mother's inner thoughts. Nothing jarred me other than a grammatical pet peeve of mine. so, I would take out the word 'at' in the sentence [Jenna squinted at where her daughter was pointing.]

    [Jenna squinted where her daughter was pointing.] sounds better to me.

    I think you nailed it too.

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  3. I enjoyed this opening and was immediately into the story. Whatever you're doing -- keep doing it.

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  4. One picky point. When daughter says "You don't normally see stars in the daytime." Sounds too adult.

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  5. Hi,
    After a discussion about stars, the mother remarks the daughter has an interest in geometry. Should that be astronomy?

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  6. Hi all, thanks for those comments. They're very useful and I'll fix/explain those in the next draft. All the best for your WIP, whatever it is.

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