I still couldn't see anything wrong with it. So I began to research. And here's what I found.
"Physical telling" means something along the lines of the use of the actions of a character to convey their emotions. For example: "I took a deep breath," "I sighed," "I wiped my eyes," "I tapped my foot."
At a superficial level, these phrases aren't necessarily "telling" for the purposes of the "show not tell rule". The phrases are not saying "I was flustered," "I was annoyed," "I was sad," or "I was impatient." The problem is, however, that these types of phrases also aren't showing the reader what the character is actually feeling. They're just telling about an action the character is performing. And they're usually cliche, turning up in most peoples' manuscripts (and numerous times at that). So two big problems, actually. See Mary Kole's post on Physical Cliches here for her take on it.
But physical telling was all I knew how to write. If I couldn't say, "Verity was sad," then how else did I show she was sad if I didn't have her wipe tears off her cheeks?
And here's what I came up with:
- it's ok to have telling in your manuscript, as long as it's the "good" kind
- "good telling" involves using story context and interiority to paint a three-dimensional picture where you make your reader feel like a part of the story experience, but you don’t exclude them from participating either (per Mary Kole)
- for the most part, whenever you start to feel the urge to use a physical cliche, replace it with interiority instead (see here for how to do this and a definition of "interiority")
- when you're narrating a story, particularly in first person, you're in the character's head anyway. So just tell what they're feeling, rather than trying to show it through physical telling and cliches
- strong dialogue should convey the meaning that physical telling would otherwise give
How about you: Do you use physical telling in your manuscript? Have you found ways to avoid it (and does it even need to be avoided from your perspective)? What's your best tip on showing not telling?