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Thank you Raimey!

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Years ago, when I first started sending my work out to publishers, I heard the term, “Show Don’t Tell” so frequently I got scared. I actually swung the opposite way and focused all efforts on action writing, showing feeling through physical efforts. As my editor points out, I now over act my scenes without necessary motivation. Too much showing without motivational cues can potentially cause a disconnect between the reader and the character. It’s an absence of human thinking, and the absence of motivation behind the action creates frustration. Why is this character doing what she is doing?

My editor calls the term character internalization. She told me to study it, and how it’s necessary to use it to show motivation behind action. It made sense. We do it in life. We feel something in response to an action, which makes us act.

So here I am, diving into the ins and outs of character internalization as Author Mary Kole describes it in her outstanding book Writing Irresistible Kidlit.

Character Internalization is, “access to a character’s thoughts, feelings and reactions … it reinforces character feelings or turning points in key moments.” (page 58)

When do we add it?

  • To make clear the purpose of action.
  • To summarize a major scene and give it emotional purpose. The formula is much like human nature. Act. Then give us the emotion reaction.

How is this different than telling?

Telling is not describing action or conveying emotional tone. In telling, fuzzy words are used to describe what we think is a clear emotion. The truth? Everyone reacts differently to anger, or sadness, or happiness, or stone cold apathy.

Examples of telling.

  • She got angry.
  • She’d just met the sweetest boy ever.
  • She was so happy about her grades.

Here’s the difference when you couple physical description with interiority:

Instead of she got angry, consider this:

Abigail pulled away from the wall. She couldn’t see straight, even her gaze shook with the nerves boiling up inside of her belly. Why couldn’t she go? Why couldn’t anyone ever tell her the truth to her face? She’d done everything her mom ever asked of her. Her mother promised. Her mother didn’t even have the courtesy to tell her no to her face.  

Instead of she’d just met the sweetest boy ever, consider this:

Abigail was so cold her teeth wouldn’t stop chattering. She could see her breath. She could see the snow salting through the new boy’s short black hair.

“You don’t have a coat?” He asked, and without an answer, he unzipped his jacket and lay it gently across her shoulders.

“If you won’t let me take you home,” He said softer, “then the least I can do is lend you my jacket.”

Abigail couldn’t speak, stumbling over the words she really wanted to say in her head. No boy had ever cared to help her like this before. She’d been the poor girl her whole life, with the drunk dad and the good for nothing older brother. Girls need a mother, the ladies whispered behind her back wherever she went. No, Tom was different. Tom didn’t look at her like she was trash and she didn’t belong.

Try the third one on your own:

Instead of she was so happy about her grades, what can you add to shake it up?

I’d love to hear it 🙂

About Erika Beebe

Author, dreamer, and a momma to a couple of wonderful kids, I try to live life everyday in hope and inspire others along my way.

Posted on October 16, 2019, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Great post. I, too, did way too much internalization. And then I had to find a way to balance action and internalization. Great post. Very helpful!

  2. I write entirely in first person, so this came naturally – almost too naturally. I’ve learned sometimes to let the actions tell the story, and not the thoughts.

  3. I write entirely in first person, so this came naturally to me, but sometimes I can overdo it. I do use ations alone sometimes, with later reflection in some cases.

  4. This was a great post with some great advice! I find that showing not telling comes a lot easier when writing in 1st person POV. Like Marian said, I also have to sometimes force myself to tell and not show, because my MC really loves her internal monologues!

  5. That made sense to me, Erika–“over act my scenes without necessary motivation”. That bugs me when writers do it. I’m not vested enough emotionally to care about the action. Smart editor.

  6. I think there should be some telling in any good story, however, timing is everything. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  7. Great tips. I have that book – Writing Irresistible Kidlit, but haven’t read it yet. I’l have to make it the next craft book I read. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  8. I really wish I had read this post when I first started writing.

  9. Some very good points for me to consider here, thank you.

    As she scanned the letter, a potent mixture of pride, satisfaction and relief began to bubble through her. By the time she got to the bottom of the page, she was bouncing in her seat.

  10. Character Internalization is, “access to a character’s thoughts, feelings and reactions … it reinforces character feelings or turning points in key moments.”

    So much this.

  11. I used to take every new lesson and apply it with such intensity to whatever I was working on that finally my mother, an avid reader, said, “Would you stop trying to impress me with what you know and tell me the damn story?” I still hear that when I write.

    Writing is a bit like parenting. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

    As for those grades…fist pump to the sky, baby.

  12. Ah, the old ‘show, don’t tell.’ It’s one of my pet peeves. I’m glad to see that you’ve recovered from your fear. ^_^

  13. Ronel Janse van Vuuren

    Love the Oscar Wilde quote!

    Ronel catching up for Oct Author Toolbox day The Pros and Cons of Starting a Company as a Self-Pub Author

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