If you haven’t seen the classic skit on Saturday Night live, here is a link. I think it’s apropos to what I want to talk about this week. It’s all about adding the right components to your story as you go along. Maybe not quite that much cowbell, but definitely more. It may not be quite as important on the first draft, but it really needs to be paid attention to in the rewrite phases. If you’re an aspiring writer you really should be listening to Writing Excuses. They have a real knack for presenting material in a way that is easy to understand and provides some great instruction. They just added the wonderful Mary Robinette Kowal to their permanent team and this week’s episode was about Internal Motivations. She is a great add and she has a fascinating take on how to write and is very good at clearly describing how she thinks about it.
This week’s episode spurred a conversation with my wife about maintaining the right perspective through your POV character and how when it is well done really makes a huge difference in the showing instead of telling. I think we all know when we read something and it is compelling. It just feels right and evokes emotions or understanding on our part. However, I’m not convinced that we all know why we feel that way. If a character has been giving hints as to how they think with little snippets of how they see the world peppered in along the story if makes their observations intuitive later in the book. It cuts down on the need to tell about something when you are already in that narrator’s head. My wife made the comment, “isn’t that just common sense?” You would think it would be, but I think a lot of new writers don’t quite get it. It makes a lot of sense on hindsight, when it’s pointed out to you how the author built their character’s POV along the way, but seeing something that “feels” right and really understanding how the author got you there is not so intuitive. We know as writer’s what we should be doing, but so many new writers still end up telling instead of showing because they miss adding the little touches along the way and then want to convey something, but end up having to add an info dump or take the reader out of the story to add a narrative to add in extra stuff to make their point. This becomes the classic telling instead of showing.
It’s the smooth touches along the way that add the magic. The reader hardly notices that the writer is adjusting their point of view with subtle hints and observances. In the last book I read, the main character was always noticing what things were made of or who designed it because she was very much about design. It was one of her characteristics that she was good at noticing trends in the subculture and Gibson didn’t just tell us that, he showed it in every detail along the entire story. She noticed architecture and materials and when things were old or new. But it wasn’t in your face; it was just her noticing it, with very little actual text — just little bits and pieces here and there.
As you’re going through your rewrite really focus on staying in the POV of the narrator and show the reader what they see, just a little bit here and there, it will save on the telling later on and will make your character come to life. We can all use a little more cowbell in our writing.