Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 1, 2011

Gawking Characters

We have all heard the old mantra, “Show Don’t Tell”, but on June 26th 2010 Jessica Murphy wrote a very nice article for Inspiration for Writers titled, Gawking Characters.  It gives examples, so I thought here is a nice way to show (not tell) you about gawking characters with sharing Jessica’s article.

Jessica did not coin the “Gawking Characters” phrase.  I am not sure exactly who did, but Kate Gerard wrote and article in 2002 titled, Get Your Characters out of My Way where she talks about gawking characters. Links are provided at the bottom of this post.

A “gawking character” is a narrator who tells the reader what happens in a scene instead of letting the reader experience the action directly. This is called narrator intrusion, and it robs the reader of the full experience, thus distancing him from the story. A gawking character looks like this:

Gawking: “Adam saw the orange glow and the black smoke rolling into the sky from where he stood on the corner of the block. As he jogged down the sidewalk toward it, he felt a cool breeze and smelled burning wood. As he ducked under the branch of a tree, he saw the burning house. From where he stood, he felt the intense heat and heard the flames roar and pop. Adam stepped forward toward the open front door but felt the searing heat from the sidewalk drive him back.”

This time, the narrator does not water down the scene. We see no “Adam felt,” “Adam saw,” “Adam heard.”

Direct: “Adam glanced up from the corner of Kingwood and Beechurst. The starlit sky glowed orange, and thick smoke rolled across it. He spun on one heel, crunching grit on the sidewalk beneath his shoes, and ran down the street. The cool autumn breeze carried sparks and the smell of burning wood past him. As he brushed the branches of a tree out of his face, the burning house appeared.

A rushing roar filled Adam’s ears, and a wave of heat lifted the hairs on his tan arms. Shading his blue eyes with his hand, he squinted against the blinding light. Flames engulfed every inch of the house and licked at the cloudless sky. They popped and crackled from inside the house, the sounds echoing down the empty street. Adam rushed toward the front porch, but the heat seared his face. He fell back.”

This direct experience captivates readers and keeps them interested.

Click here to read the rest.  Click here to read Kate Gerard’s article.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. As usual, great stuff, Kathy. Thank you 🙂

    And I LOVE that parrot! It IS a parrot, isn’t it? Or maybe a parakeet? Either way…what a look lol


  2. Thanks, Kathy, I hadn’t heard this term before. I’ll remember to show, not gawk.


  3. Donna,

    It’s a parrot. Actually it looks like my parrot, except my parrot has a bright red head. He’s beautiful, but messy.



    • My ex has a parrot—well, really it belongs to Iris, his wife; she’s the one he’s attached to. Great bird!


  4. Mary,

    I hadn’t heard the term either, but it is a cute way to think about it.



    • Speaking of “terms,” there’s a great article by Anne Sibley O’Brien in the SCBWI Bulletin about “The Assembly of Book Projects.” I LOVE her articles 🙂


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