So, here I am whining again. Let me back up.
My husband and I took a quick trip to Chicago last week and I popped an audio book into the car to listen coming and going. He and I laughed at all of the intrusive dialogue tags including growling, barking, cooing, chirping, and trilling. And if that wasn’t enough, EACH of those tags was followed by an adverb. Chirping cheerily, cooing sweetly, growling angrily. And I began to finally GET it. I teach it, and I believe it at some level, but hearing it repeatedly really made me take notice.
“I believe!” “I believe!”
Was this some new author who didn’t get it? Absolutely not. This was a multi-pubbed, multi-million dollar contract fave author of mine that I started reading in the eighties and nineties. How did I not notice this before?
Easy, I was used to the way the author wrote. I have ignored this in the past, but hearing it out loud, the result was so much telling, and to be honest, very little opportunity to get to know the characters on a personal level. That’s right. Just like our writing instructors tell us. We, as readers, want to really KNOW our characters. We want that personal connect.
As the story finished, I realized that I knew almost nothing about the characters except what the author told me. Yes, I said told me. Because the entire book was telling.
I whine about this a lot as I feel showing rather than telling is drilled into us, shoved down our throats, beaten into us. And at times, I rebel. I feel as if too much emphasis is put on worrying about whether or not a character barks, coos, or growls heatedly. And yet, hearing it audibly, it was cringe worthy. I barely got into the characters’ heads at all. At one point, more than half a dozen lines, structure identical, spilled dialogue followed by a tag, followed by an adverb. It felt like a laundry list of dialogue that had somehow been dragged together. In other words, it stood out like the proverbial sore thumb after a huge strike with a hammer. And after a bit, it hurt to keep listening.
So, okay. I admit it, I am often dragged kicking and screaming to a deadline with these items needing change in my novels. I comply, but don’t always like it. Shucks, I rarely like it. But now, more than ever, I see the need.
Will that author stop making millions? No. The author’s readers are used to the way the author writes, and are fine with it. But I have to ask myself whether or not that author would make it if starting out in today’s market.
I love getting to know my author’s characters in a very personal way, and maybe this year, I’ll stop whining about some of the things that are expected of me. And do what my instructors have taught me. Tighten the writing and show don’t tell.