Congrats! You’ve just finished your novel. Now, you have to edit it. Kill talking heads syndrome, show instead of tell, work out plot holes—the works. Where to begin? Fortunately, I have a little acronym that is going to be very useful for eliminating talking heads syndrome and helps writers show more instead of tell in their writing.
Here is a little sample of writing that is going to need some major editing:
“Dance with me.”
“You mean slow dance? With our bodies pressed close to each other and everything?”
“Sorry, Max. I’m not going to scream my views on love to the entire world. You need to come close if you want to hear this.”
I nod and lift my arms, resting them on her hips.
“Love. Its definition differs depending on the definer. But to me, love is emotional intimacy. Everything physical is secondary. Love is a willingness to sacrifice things that are impossible to give up otherwise. Love is being able to accept someone’s flaws and knowing they accept yours. It’s being able to be transparent and trusting. This person will never intentionally hurt you, because that person loves you too.”
“Have you ever loved?”
“Yes. A few times.”
There are reasons why talking head syndrome can be annoying. One, it’s hard to keep track of who’s talking when. Two, it’s hard for readers to picture what is actually going on in the scene. Three, when the predictable pattern breaks, it’s annoying. Need I list more reasons?
Now, this is how to fix this scene from blah to memorable. There is a simple acronym called E.A.T. that I use.
E – expression (facial)
A – action (body)
T – thought (mind)
Especially in dialogue (and even more so in first person stories) it is imperative that readers can actually feel like they’re in the scene. Sprinkling in bits of expression, action, and thought into a piece can really spice it up.
A small introduction would help set the scene for readers a little better, even though this is an excerpt. If Melly stepped closer to Max and did an action implying she is the one who said “Dance with me” that immediately removes some confusion for the readers. In the previous example, readers have no idea who is talking and may only figure out there is a character named Max. Even if this is a scene from the middle of a book, readers will have to backtrack a bit to make sure they remember who’s talking.
Because Max and Melly are talking, they need to react to each others’ dialogue. For example, when Melly asks Max to dance with her, if he were to scowl or raise an eyebrow would imply two very different attitudes. Instead of having to outright state that he is surprised or unhappy about being asked to dance, the body language shows it.
When Melly has her monologue defining what she thinks love is, it helps to have some sort of body language in there somewhere and have Max react to it, even if only for a second, before moving on to the rest of what she has to say. 70% of communication is actually through body language, so it should definitely be present in scenes with heavy dialogue.
Finally, a conclusion at the end of the scene would close much better than just ending on what Melly said. Readers should be in Max’s head because this piece is in first person, but if the scene just drops off there, how can they know what he’s thinking? Therefore, there needs to be some sort of conclusion present, even if it’s not a long one.
Keeping these things in mind, the scene above could be transformed into something like this after editing. This is an excerpt from my novel, Facades:
Jaxon and Cassy are forgotten. All that matters is us and what Melly’s gonna say. We stare at each other, daring the other to speak. The song fades, replaced by a slower one. Melly steps closer and locks her arms around my neck, near enough to whisper in my ear.
“Dance with me.”
I raise an eyebrow. “You mean slow dance? With our bodies pressed close to each other and everything?”
Melly smirks slightly, one corner of her mouth lifting. Her eyes never once leave my face. “Sorry, Max. I’m not going to scream my views on love to the entire world. You need to come close if you want to hear this.”
She wins. I can’t argue with this girl. I nod and lift my arms, resting them on her hips. She’s got nice curves. My hands settle, and I look at her again. She smirks. Did she see me hesitate? I shake my head and wait for her to speak.
“Love.” She presses against me more. It feels good. “Its definition differs depending on the definer. But to me, love is emotional intimacy. Everything physical is secondary. Love is a willingness to sacrifice things that are impossible to give up otherwise. Love is being able to accept someone’s flaws and knowing they accept yours. It’s being able to be transparent and trusting. This person will never intentionally hurt you, because that person loves you too.”
“Have you ever loved?” The whispered question burns my lips.
She tilts her head to the side. “Yes. A few times.”
I don’t pry, and she doesn’t elaborate. Still, I discern the unspoken words. She’s never been in love. That’s okay. But she has loved and does love a few lucky guys. For some reason, one of them is me.
Editing doesn't end there! This scene could still use work. But hopefully, this is a start!