Probably the #1 issue I see popping up over and over and over again in manuscripts I work on is telling what has already been shown. Or telling what should be shown. But recently I’ve been seeing a lot of doubling up, where writers want to explain what they just wrote, like they’re afraid readers aren’t going to get it.

Example: In the kitchen, Jemma set two mugs next to the teapot out of habit before shaking her head and putting one back. Leo wouldn’t be home for breakfast. But it was symbolic of that fact that he was, and would always be, her first priority.

Jemma’s actions very clearly show us that her absent lover is a priority in her life, that she misses him, that they usually have breakfast together. Those first two sentences alone paint a vivid picture, and reveal quite a bit of information without beating us over the head with it. The last sentence is not only unnecessary but damaging. Like a delicious dessert with a disgusting aftertaste, it makes it hard to appreciate the good writing that precedes it.

Explicitly telling readers something they can clearly see for themselves is insulting, and kind of like stopping on the freeway to point out an accident. Everyone can see it, and you’re holding up traffic and getting on people’s nerves.

Alissa McGowan

Alissa McGowan

Alissa is the founder and owner of Red Pen for Rent. She is passionate about helping authors make their work fucking awesome.
Alissa McGowan

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Writing Tip: Trust yourself. Trust your readers.

by | Feb 10, 2017