Saturday, October 12, 2013

Pet Peeves & Little Bits of Business, by Paula Rose Michelson

Many, who know me, know that I can be downright...well, let's just say that when I've had it it's best to run for cover. So, to ward off everyone needing to flee, today I'm sharing some of my 'Pet Peeves.' Before going there, I must confess that when writing I had all of these. I became aware of them before I was writing to be published. Still I am certain that each of my books has some of these issues within them. Therefore, before I mention the writing 'No Knows' let me assure you that I need to continually apply these ideas to my own work because I know that using a 'Little Piece of Business,' which can be defined as a specific mannerism, vocal inflection, adding a fragrance, or any other unique quality which sets a character in your novel apart will negate your need to identify them by name for each verbal interaction or for that matter when they walk into a room.

Here’s an example of a ‘Bit of Business.’ If Doctor Watson was fumbling for his key and mumbled, "Dash it all, I know this is the right key because I live at 221 B. Baker Street,” and he heard violin music, we'd know that Sherlock Holmes was at home. Likewise, if we were visiting a friend who had some music playing and we heard a man sing 'Tradition!' we know she was listening to 'The Fiddler on the Roof.' 

Within every great book, move, or play these ‘Tells’ or as I call them 'Little Bits of Business' move the story along so we don't have to hear one character say another character's name before or within every scene or sentence. Applying this idea means that when two people are speaking to each other it is not necessary to continually tell the reader 'he said, she said.' When more than two people are in a scene the 'Little Bits' let the reader know who is speaking, thus allowing the drama to heighten by eliminating the need for the drama reducing 'she said, he said' information which slows down the story and might add to the cost of the book since the number of words determine the price. 

Equally important 'Little Bits' like vocal inflection were used in Shakespeare’s "The Taming of the Shrew" letting theater goers know who the shrew was without calling her that the moment she walked on stage. In playwright Edward Albee's Tony and Drama Critics Award winning “Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf” we meet another shrew but the audience isn't told that. It is Virginia who shows us who she is. 

Ah! Show! I love this word! Yet many prefer to tell! This one word is at the top of my 'Pet Peeve List' because, I want to see the characters living the story, which many times does not happen if the story is told.

Wonder if you have told or shown the tale? An easy way to discover the answer without having to ask anyone is to look at a few pages and see if you have lots of quotation marks. The less dialogue you have the more you are narrating (telling) the story. Every author struggles with this issue…if that weren’t so I would have written about something else.


  1. Really interesting Paula. Thank you

  2. Thank you, Wendy! Since I"m sick and needed to highlight one of my previously posted blogs, your your comment made the choice easy.