Monday, March 17, 2014

How to show not tell by H.C. Brown

Showing and telling is like a switch in your head...okay. We just have to turn it on. I've  sat in lectures/workshops but over the years I've taught and tutored I've come to the conclusion that our brains can only absorb so much information and then we get confused. So I've picked out a few things you need and set them up in a  way to turn on your lights :-) If I am correct  print this up and keep it close by as a reference when you are writing,  it will help a lot.

Telling: She felt hot
Showing: Her face grew hot.

Telling : She felt cold/ she knew it was cold

Showing: An icy chill seeped through her blouse.

Telling: He realized he'd hit his head/ he banged his head.

Showing: Pain shot through his temple.

 So go through your manuscript and do a search for she/he felt, knew, thought, was.....these are usually signs of telling unless in dialogue.

Reaction before Action. On the whole using "as" is a lazy way of writing and it's the way we speak which makes it even more confusing. So do not to use ‘as”  to join two actions that are happening in a sentence out of sequence. Remember an action is followed by  a reaction.
 She screamed as the house caught fire.
He flinched as the door burst open.

Flames licked under the door and a curls of acrid smoke burned a path into her lungs. "Help!"
The door flung open and smashed against the wall. Hairs rose on the back of his neck at the sight of the demon.

Dialogue Tags:
These are unnecessary and, he, said , he replied etc are redundant. If two people are in a conversation, if one speaks then the other is replying. The reader doesn't need to be told this. Every publishing house I've been with have insisted they be removed.

Using Action Tags,  you set the mood of the scene so  think about this:

"How dare you," John said angrily.
"I'll  do whatever I please," she replied.

What  image does the above dialogue give the reader....not much.
So by removing the dialogue tags and adding action you create the mood of the characters.

John slammed one large fist into the table overturning the bud vase. His hard gaze lashed her face."How dare you."

Jane couldn't face him and her attention went to  the trail of water spilling across the desk. She gathered her courage and lifted her chin. "I'll do whatever I please."

Can you see the mood of both the characters?

Using the action tags with the dialogue adds what I call ambience....the mood, feel, scent of a scene.

Keeping POV.

In the scene above, can you tell who is the POV character and why? It's Jane because she sees his "One large fist." and we have her inner thought "Jane couldn't face him." Always add an adjective to the other character to keep POV. Remember only the POV can see, eye colour, a twisted smile, large hands, brown hair etc.

Pause and EM-Dash.
In dialogue when a person pauses in conversation you use the three dots . . .
Am EM-Dash is when speech is cut off  by an interruption of another person or action:

“Oh darling . . . please don’t go.”  (Pause in speech.)
“John I —”        ( Interrupted )
“Don’t say another word—” He threw the papers in her face. “—just look at these.” (Interrupted)

 Hope this helps :-)


  1. Hi,

    As you observe, it has a lot to do with using active rather than passive verbs--the secret of Nora Robert's successful romances!

  2. Yes.....but she head hops all the time LOL. Most of us wouldn't get away with it.

  3. Thanks - this is really good and helpful :)