Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Showing with Thoughts

I’ve betaed a lot of mss lately, and I keep finding this one thing in common in some of them: There’s room for more “showing with thoughts.” To make myself clear, take a look at this rough example that I wrote:

"The noise of breaking glass reaches my ears and the anti-theft alarm goes off. I clutch the sheets tightly and my heart races. Footsteps creak on the floorboards downstairs, and while I climb down the bed to reach the phone and dial 911, a shiver runs down my spine"

Here I’m not *telling* that the MC is afraid, right? With the heart racing and the shiver, I’m *showing* it, right? Right. But then why I don’t like this example of showing?

1) Because I think shivers running down spines and hearts drumming are becoming clichés. Just as jaws setting, nostrils flaring, and teeth clenching. (But hey, that doesn’t mean I don’t use them sometimes, lol!)

2) Because I have no idea what the MC is thinking. And I usually LOVE to be in the MC’s head.

If you do it right, you can show feelings (scared, sad, etc) with thoughts. But without making the character think something like, “Omigosh, I’m so scared.”

Okay so if I want to show scared, I might make the character think: 
“Where the hell did I leave my taser?” Or, “If I hide under the bed, would the killer see me?”

Or maybe I want to show angry
“I imagine my knuckles crunching against his nose, and I have to bite my lip not to smile.”

Well, I’m sure you get what I’m trying to say now, right?
I hope this post helped someone in some way!!

So how do you like to show feelings?



  1. I love the chart of faces, that is awesome! Something like that next to my writing space would be very helpful... I try to use the five senses to show emotion as much as possible. A shiver, vision narrowing, metallic tang of fear, that kind of thing.

  2. Here's what I struggle with: take the same scenario but in third person (rather than first). In first I feel comfortable showing the emotion as you do with your examples but when I'm in third I stumble a bit on what/how much to show.

  3. Heather! Hi!! :D Yeah, I liked the chart the minute I saw it too!

    Peter, yeah, I would struggle with that on 3rd, too. Still, I think that you can zoom in and show some thoughts like that. I love it when I read in 3rd, and the zoom is very close to the character. But then, that's just me ;)

  4. Great post, Monica! Love it! :) Showing with thoughts is such a great way to get emotion across. I've been really focusing on that with my own project that I'm revising right now.

  5. Oh, love the face chart!

    I'm a big believer in thoughts "showing" what a character is feeling -- it's one of my favorite methods. In fact, I usually wind up having to pare down my MC's inner monologue. She thinks too much. *grin*

  6. I like to ramble on for paragraphs about my mc's feelings and thoughts and intersperse it reluctantly with the actual story :P No really, I do - I can't help it!

  7. Great example. Showing with thoughts can be hard if not done well. I love internal dialogue, but there are times when I feel like I'm being beat over the head with it. Make sense?

  8. Awesome post! I love getting in my character's head and showing emotion that way, but I am gulity of those cliches too.

  9. I had trouble showing thoughts when I wrote in 3rd person. When I switched to first I was able to get into the MC's head more.

    Great post.

  10. I think this is something we ALL struggle with, and realizing it is the first step to recovery, right??

  11. That's a great point! You can show a lot with thoughts, and sometimes those are missing. I like to be deep in in my characters head, so I hope I show enough of them!

  12. Kristin, thanks!

    Linda, LOL! Yeah, sometimes my MCs think too much too! haha!

    Ruth! That's funny!

    Christa, yeah! Totally makes sense :)

    Alison, lol!

    Patti, yeah, that's one of the reasons I prefer 1st, too. :)

    Jolene, RIGHT! :D

    Lisa, you're just like me! I love to be in my Mc's head, too. <3

  13. The trick is to get them in the right order. Stimulus comes first, then bodily reaction, then thought.

    I've been working on getting more thought in. The right thoughts, not just any old ones (which is a common mistake I find). :)

  14. I think this is tough to balance. I've read some mss where there's too much of this, and some that didn't have enough. Oy! Balance. I struggle with it every day :D

  15. Stina, great point!! Thanks for sharing! :D

    Julie, totally. I struggle with balance every day, too!

  16. This is something I've been trying to do more of lately. I used to do purely physical reactions, but there is so much more depth when you get into the character's head more! Thanks for the post.

  17. Hey, really good points! Describing physical reactions isn't enough, especially when they've become cliches. And in first person, it's easier to have thoughts thoughts. :)

  18. Important stuff, Monica! I know I'm guilty of the extreme show-don't-tell fix. Balance really is key, isn't it? Thanks for the reminder!

    Btw, I plus-one'ed this post :)


  19. This is a Great reminder to keep on my shoulder. Thank You Monica.

  20. I struggle with showing emotions in thoughts. Thanks for your helpful examples and ideas. I'll have to try doing that more in my stories.

  21. Thanks! This is a great reminder. I still struggle to be more narrative intensive and not so dialogue heavy *sigh*

  22. You're so right. I love sharing the heebie jeebies with a character when I read.