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Recently, I am trying to write my own novel, but I came across a problem that is hindering my progress greatly. I can't get into the mind of the protagonist even though I planned her character beforehand in detail; and consequently, I can only grit out chunky, bland sets of sentences that lacks any soul. I am having problems making the character shine naturally.

I think these are due to my unsureness on what is the middle ground between too much and too little information on the character's thought process. I fear if I give too little info the reader will become uninterested, and I dislike giving too much simply because I think it as a sign of bad writing. Also, I worry that the reader will dislike the characters when I do give some dimension to the character.

I am a little confused on how to approach my writing, and I will be very happy if you can help me out with it.

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I can only grit out chunky, bland sets of sentences that lacks any soul. I am having problems making the character shine naturally.

I think these are due to my unsureness on what is the middle ground between too much and too little information on the character's thought process. I fear if I give too little info the reader will become uninterested, and I dislike giving too much simply because I think it as a sign of bad writing. Also, I worry that the reader will dislike the characters when I do give some dimension to the character.

I am a little confused on how to approach my writing, and I will be very happy if you can help me out with it.

I'm not a professional but am further along in my first novel than you and will share what I have learned. It might be helpful.

  1. Don't let the blank page stop you from writing. Plan for your first draft to be a 'crappy copy.' Just write a bad first draft. Give yourself permission to write a bad first draft.

^That's my answer to your question. Give yourself a word count goal (example 1000 words per day) to meet every day and don't worry if the words are bad, just get them on the page.

A thousand bad words is infinitely better that no words. Make a bad copy and revise later.

  1. You're putting too much responsibility onto yourself up front, to know what the reader will want. You don't know, it might be impossible to know. Don't worry if you have too much or too little detail, not yet. You can always take away, and you can always add more.

I gave my tenth draft out to 2 people in my writing group - and learned that I had not added enough setting, anywhere in the story. Other parts I had beaten over the head, there was too much message/idea. That's fine, I can tune those areas now. Same for you.

  1. You can change telling to showing later, and vice versa. Showing and telling refer to how to communicate information and showing comes in different flavors.

It sounds to me, like you're stuck on making progress (afraid of bad writing) rather than wrestling with show/tell. It's OK for the first draft to be all 'tell.'

Telling is stating information, and engages about one part of the reader brain, the part that boring lecturers rely on, the part where we are supposed to listen to words and memorize them. Any part of your story that does that is telling. It's OK for the first draft to be telling.

"He was aggravated." < telling.

Showing is anything that pulls on other parts of the reader brain, preferably multiple parts. The reader's memories, imagination, emotions, etc. It goes a step outside of telling and requires the reader to figure out what is not being told. That's why it is more immersive.

"He slammed his fist into the dashboard. Start, dammit, my flight's about to board." < showing. You can figure out 'he was aggravated.' In the meantime you have a picture instead of something to memorize.

But showing can also be through description. It can be a paragraph or two (or a chapter or a book) without any dialog, as long as it moves the reader and engages multiple modalities of cognition.

How much “showing, not telling” is the best for character development?

Showing is best for engaging the reader. In addition to the stuff above, one way to develop a character by showing, is through other characters' reactions to him/her.

Telling is best for brevity. A character's age is easy to tell and is fine to tell. A character's maturity is better to show. A character's eye color is fine to tell but the emotion behind those eyes is usually shown. The car that the character drives can be told. That the character loves the car can be shown.

Hope something in there is useful. Good luck!

p.s. Incidentally - one thing I would do differently if I was starting my novel right now: Find the overriding question that your protagonist is struggling with through the story. Keep it in mind as you write.

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    After reading your answer I have a much better understanding on managing the details, thanks very much! I will heed your advice! – So Dreary Feb 26 '18 at 7:47
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    An old author friend of mine who'd been published more times than he could remember used to say much the same. His pet phrase was "Don't get it right, get it wrote." – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Feb 26 '18 at 8:31
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Begin with showing. That should be your default mode. It is better to write a "show" and delete it to replace it with a "tell", than vice versa. Telling is a kind of shorthand, a fact that has to be memorized, while a scene (though it may be a hundred times longer) is memorable, it is imagined.

"Joe is a violent man," is telling. A scene in which Joe is innocently bumped by a girl not watching where she is going, and Joe shoves her hard so she falls to the ground and tells her "Watch where you're going, bitch," and then walks away, that shows us Joe is a violent man.

You get into your character's head by giving her an event or scene she needs to react to. This does not have to be central to the plot, but preferably not a throwaway scene, maybe an incident you can mention again later, or other characters may refer to.

People are defined not only by their thoughts, but more importantly, their actions. She needs something that causes her to take action, or that causes her to speak: As a question, as a statement, as a warning.

Your character must be motivated by something, whenever she acts, whenever she speaks. This is not just something BIG she wants (she does need that), but this is the moment by moment motivation of what she is doing, to survive, to make progress, to learn something she needs to know, to take action, to get something from somebody (in person or conversation).

You get to know her by the decisions she makes to advance herself to a future that she wants, and/or escape a prison (metaphorical or real) she is stuck in.

Skip writing about the three days she did nothing. Skip writing about the airplane flight from Seattle to Miami. If nothing happened, we don't care. If it was a welcome rest, that's all you had to write.

Likewise, you as the author need a motivation for whatever narrative you write. You are telling it to convey something to the reader, but at least try to make sure that isn't PLOT information. This depends on style, but in general what you describe should be a setting, OR "in the moment" stuff like how something made her feel, or confused her. Give as little backstory in your narrative as you can get away with, as little "world building" as you can get away with.

If your sentences are "bland", it is (likely) because they don't matter to the reader. You have given them no reason to care. There is not enough conflict going on, and you need to open on a scene, with no backstory at all, with your character in it, doing something. It can be scene alone, or a scene where she is arguing with a clerk, or killing somebody, or trying to pick out a new refrigerator that she can't really afford.

You don't use this scene to reveal her whole character and backstory. You use it to reveal ONE THING about her personality (generally not appearance), and makes her a person. Preferably something not dead average, but in any case make it clear this specific trait is hers.

So brainstorm. What is the most unusual thing about her personality? What are the consequences of that trait, how would it manifest itself in some situation?

So she is an assassin. We may not want to open with a scene where she is killing somebody; that takes more setup than we can afford. But, maybe she is good at infiltrations, and disguises, and concealment. Perhaps she is at a shop where they sell stage makeup, and she is buying contact lenses that make her brown eyes blue, and on an impulse picks up a new product the clerk shows her to make realistic looking scars. The reader doesn't have to know she is an assassin, the clerk may ask her where she is acting and she tells him a lie, but she is not typical, a small percentage of girls would be delighted to buy some new scar makeup on a whim (outside of Halloween).

This gives us something to hang on, you've shown us an individual, this is a friendly but lying girl into some weird appearance deceptions, and we are curious about her motivations.

Now your MC is yours, I am just showing an example.

When to tell: If the showing of a scene is boring. It tends to be boring if there is a lack of conflict, if they do not matter to the main character. You can either delete them, or replace them with a telling. The best things to tell are things the reader will not have to memorize, do not expect them to remember ANY fact you give them, especially a fact about the trait of a character. But a "fact" they can forget, that's fine. What was for dinner.

"She took a taxi to the airport." This gets her from her apartment into the airport, it may be important to the reader, but unless the character is reacting to the difficulty of hailing a cab, or the driver, or traffic or something on the ride in some way that reveals a new aspect of her character (she's a bully, or she knows the driver is taking the long route and says nothing), it is a waste of the reader's time, and boring. A generic driver and generic taxi ride is fine, and we cover that transition in a sentence.

The reader expects if you are describing something in detail it is going to lead to conflict (and or a new (to the reader) experience in your character's life), and every time it does not, they do not feel "immersed" they feel cheated. If the author does not have a motive for including a scene (it must show something new about the character in some way) then the scene should be replaced by telling.

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    Thank you very much for such a detailed answer, you are right that the reader should be shown the relevant information as often as possible. I will try to incorparate them into my own writing. Cheers! – So Dreary Feb 26 '18 at 8:10

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