Editing tips: Narrator Intrusion


Elementary school children standing and watching teacher write at blackboard, Washington, D.C. Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston. 1899

Today, I’ll be giving tips on how to show not tell.

When I started writing, I thought you could come up with a great story idea, begin writing, probably run into a hitch or two along the way, but end up with a decent story that any publishing company would jump on, if you were a half-good writer.

Boy was I wrong.

I’ll never forget the day my first editor told me my manuscript was a shipwreck. Looking back, I agree totally. I had no idea how to write.

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Sure I could have written for second graders, but that was about it. I honestly thought my work was spectacular. The story was good, yeah, but the pacing, paragraphing, grammar, names, etc., were so bad that I’m surprised I got a contract with a publishing company at all.

One day, after considerable work on the novel, I found an acquistions editor that found my storyline intriguing. She wondered if I could follow her instruction and learn the basics of writing fast enough to keep up with her editing. I said I would do all the researching it took to make my novel marketable.

The first problem I had was narrator intrusion. I wanted to tell the story instead of show it to the reader. I had to learn how to “show not tell.”

The best way for a reader to fall into your story is to get them to forget that you as the author exist. It’s them and the characters. Or really just the characters. I normally write in first person so they need to be my first person character. The reader should so closely identify with that character that they can’t stop turning the page to find out what happens next.

I couldn’t trust my reader to come to his or her own conclusion, so in my writing, my editor found countless places where I told the reader what to infer. Instead, I should have showed the reader what my character was doing so he or she could come to his or her own conclusions. This helps them turn the page.

Example of what not to do: I saw the girl’s angered face.

Example of what to do: Her face reddened and her eyes shot daggers in my direction.

The second example is so much more vivid and lets the reader imagine what’s going on.

The first example had what editors call a point of view filter. When we add a filter like that we distance our reader. Instead of allowing the reader to sink into the character and experience things as they happen, we tell them what is happening as if they are standing over the character’s shoulder and watching the scene occur. This is a huge no no.

We have to keep readers engaged. For us series writers, if we lose a reader even for a second, they put down the novel, then we lose them for the rest of the series.

Below is short list of filters, though it’s not complete and concise:

I saw

It seemed

I looked

I thought

I tasted

I heard

I saw

Rewrite your passages striking out these filters and see how vivid your writing becomes. Readers will sink into your story and become one with your character.

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4 Comments

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  1. Hello! I’m new here and found your site- very informative!
    Do you think it’s possible to ‘show’ too much? I’m editing my first novel and a lot of my edits are related to this subject. If I replace every filter, it’ll increase my word count drastically and the pace will definitely slow down. Maybe that’s not a bad thing? I’m not too sure.
    In my opinion, some things just don’t need to be shown. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • You should only show things that move your story forward. When you’re writing dialogue, instead of he said or she said, you can adda bit about what the character sees, tastes, feels, smells or hears while he’s in his world. There’s no need for paragraghs about the sky orcthe field before him. Just sprinkle it throughout the dialogue. For some reason, which the experts have yet to decipher, readers skip over paragraghs and go straight to the dialogue. Not to say some character insight and some stage direction isn’t needed in the firm of paragraphs. They should be sparse and with purpose.

      Like

    • Sorry it took so long to reply. Deadlines have been rough. I have three novels releasing in the next 12 months. Ever Bound, Ever Tempted, and Ever Lasting (Cursed Series) They’re paranormal romance. I’m so excited. 🙂

      Like

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