“Show, don’t tell,” is frequent writing advice. Even though we say “tell me a story,” showing a story is what many writers aim for, and in this post, I’ll show you some examples of how to make your writing less “telly.”
Remove adverbs from dialog attributions.
“I’m so excited to see you!” she said
It might seem like you’re being helpful by adding that little bit of extra info, but the adverb there takes away from your story. Because the speaker has already said that she is excited, the adverb almost seems to undermine it. It’s an unnecessary repetition, which makes the sentence a lot less exciting than you probably intend. It also implies that your Reader isn’t intelligent enough to “get it” and needs to be told in order to understand.
You know, but…
“Save her! She’s only thirty months old!”
I wrote something like this in Wounded Bride. I wanted to tell my Reader how old somebody was. That wasn’t a good way to do so. It sounds unnatural; my character’s not going to be thinking about her child’s age but would just be screaming, “Save her!”
If there’s information you want your Reader to know, there are things you can do to add it in a way that is both natural and doesn’t tell.
“Oh, she’s so cute, how old is she?”
You can also just leave out the information which is what I ended up doing.
Be careful with “because.”
I woke up and looked at the clock. It was almost six. I got out of bed carefully, because I didn’t want to wake my wife.
A less “explainy” way to do this is:
I woke up and looked at the clock. It was almost six. I got out of bed and looked at my wife. Her eyes were closed, her expression was peaceful, and her thick, black hair was spread out on her pillow.
The second version shows the Reader what is happening, and is more subtle and nuanced. You can’t be absolutely sure that he doesn’t want to wake his wife, but if he didn’t care, then he probably wouldn’t look at her or be so tender in his description of her. If you want to add that he is definitely concerned about waking her up, you can always have him think, “Had I woken her up?” Another possibility is that he’s up to no good, and then you could go for this:
I woke up.
Oh no, what time was it?
I looked at the clock. Almost six. I slipped out of bed and glanced at her, but my wife was still asleep. Good.
If you can avoid “telling,” your stories will flow more smoothly and be more fun to read.
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Next Wednesday, I’ll have a post about writing fantasy.