On the nose writing

It’s been raining here enough to consider stock in gopher wood. Rumors of snow swirl on the horizon as I troll my Facebook friends’ pages for snippets of southwestern spring photos. Seventy and sunny sounds miles away – and it is.

Or – She was typing at her desk and her feet were frozen. Her jeans felt damp from the humidity that clung to the windows, casting a pallor of fog in the room. Her heart sank. She missed her Albuquerque friends and the beautiful sunny spring mornings, so she snuck on Facebook to get a mental fix of pretty weather and pretty people before the threat of tomorrow’s snow whitewashed her horizon.

As much as this chick might gravitate toward paragraph two, several skirmishes with red pens have taught me (after the emotional welts subsided) that option one is probably preferred. Even as an editor myself, the poet in me throws tantrums with the term and the complexity of on-the-nose writing versus creating a rich internal and external tapestry that engages my reader.

So I’ll give you a couple of takeaways: Show. Don’t tell.

Whenever possible – kill statements that “Tell” your reader about the internal thoughts of your character. “he was excited because he” “she was nervous because she” instead – let your character sweat through their 24 hour deodorant, pee themselves (well, that might be excessive), pass out... okay maybe a shaky hand or some throat clearing would be better – but write as you see people not as much as you “think” people. Just don’t have your characters blurt their whole brains onto the page in an effort to be “transparent” because that isn’t how most real people behave either. We keep secrets. We put up fronts. We tell half the story.

So that is how you, the writer, must build your believable characters. Omit needless words. Up, down, in, out, and that are examples. Really, incredibly, very are a couple more. As in, she sat down on the bed. He stood up from the table - sat on implies down and stood implies up so these words are irrelevant. Sometimes our brains, in order to drive a point home, add fillers which are not necessary to your story. He was really very excited. Yawn. His pulse pounded and his tongue stuck as he tried to – (fill in the rest with something fantastic). 

Read it out loud, or better – let someone read it to you. Hearing what hit the paper while knowing the whole story in your head will snap you out of lots of writerly indiscretions. (bring tissue though, if you’re a sensitive soul like me, because you may cry a little.) Better your story be gutted by friends than that vicious red editor pen.

And last, google google google. Wiki it. The internet is your friend. Use it.

Peace. My husband made chicharonne burritos and I must away.

Tammy Boehm
Editor