Yesterday in a post about developing characters, I brought up the old adage Show, Don’t Tell. It got me thinking about it and as far as I can tell, I don’t think I’ve done a post on that topic.
Since there are already posts about showing not telling on a million other sites, I thought it might be more relevant to you if instead of going over the general what it is and how to do it, if I’d give a couple of the tricks I use to help reduce the telling in my own fiction.
So here are three tricks to help show, not tell in three areas of your story.
This is one of the trickier ways to replace your telling with showing, but it’s also one of the best ways, and if you can master this technique it’ll make you look like a pro. The premise is simple. Take a telling description, say “he was angry” and replace it with an action to describe how angry he was. You don’t even have to put a lot of thought into this. Something like “He slammed the car door” would suffice.
Some of the most telling parts in a book come with description. It’s not always avoidable, but there are certainly ways to do it. This is definitely one of my weaker points as a writer, but I’m trying to work on it.
Anyhow, the best advice I’ve heard on this came from a presentation by Robert J. Sawyer at the RMFW Conference last year. The example he gave was to take a telling sentence like “Mary was old.” and then rewrite that sentence without using the world “old”.
The point he is making is pretty obvious in hindsight, but to me it was eye-opening. Look for dry, telling, character descriptions and rewrite them to show why the character is “old” or whatever else she may be.
For me, showing through dialogue is so much easier than showing through prose. I suppose that’s because while I feel my biggest weakness is writing descriptions, I feel my biggest strength is writing dialogue.
Anyhow, there are a a bunch of ways to use dialogue to show. They can make references to the physical appearance or background of another character or object, for example. Or the slang they use could show the reader some of the cultural background of the world. You could drop hints about characters’ motives through dialogue that may just be too telling if told in other ways. Lots of possibilities.
As a warning, though, make sure you’re not writing telling dialogue where characters are telling each other things they already know just to make a point to the reader.
Even after all these years, I still find myself writing some telling stuff and often have to go back and figure out ways to fix it. These three tricks have helped me a lot, and I hope they can help you too.
But is telling always bad? Tomorrow, I’ll be back with a look at times when it’s okay to be a little telly.
So until then, thanks for reading, and if you’ve got any tricks on showing, not telling you’d like to share, leave a comment and let us know!