Show Vs Tell: Writing to Involve the Reader
Copyright Judy Bagshaw - All Rights
A writing flaw that I
am sometimes guilty of in my first drafts, and which I see over and over in my editing work is telling
instead of showing. Think of it as the difference between describing your visit to a carnival to
taking your friend with you to the carnival and sharing the experience. Why get a secondhand report when you
can experience things first hand?
of lecturing your reader, you want your reader to become so engaged in the story that they forget that you, the
writer, exists. An easy way to do this is to involve all their senses and set fire to their emotions. You want
the reader to feel what the characters are going through. Consider the following:
lawyer had delivered the bad news and twenty-six-year old Gillian Faraday was stunned. Her father had left her
nothing. She was poor.
consider the same moment written as a fleshed out scene:
Twenty-six-year-old Gillian Faraday sat forward and gaped at the
lawyer. “Say that again?”
man shifted uncomfortably in his seat and cleared his throat. “There’s nothing left.” He startled when she
jumped to her feet and began pacing.
“How is that possible?” She clasped and unclasped her
hands as she crossed and recrossed the office. “Daddy’s rich. He’s always been rich. Very rich. That means I’m
can’t be nothing because that would mean that I’m…,” she came to an abrupt stop in front of his desk and
slammed her hand on the top, “…that I’m poor. I can’t be poor. I don’t know how!” She flopped back into her
chair with a whimper and crossed her long shapely legs.
the opening of the book. Already we know that the heroine has a long hard road ahead, and we’re right there
with her. We know something of her background and character, and something of her appearance. And because we’re
sharing her experience, we want to see how it all pans out.
book it’s important to engage your readers early on. Rather than a long rambling opening narrative to set the
scene, why not simply drop your characters in the middle of a dramatic moment. Respect that, if you have done
your job well, your readers will glean all the information they need from your characters’ actions and
else to be mindful of is the use of dialogue tags and adverbs. You could easily use something like
Stark, her lawyer, looked embarrassed. “Nevertheless, it is a fact. Your father left you
How did this happen?” Gillian asked pitifully.
action to replace passive tags, it reads:
was a long moment of silence and then Philip Stark, of Longrin, Willoughby, Davis and Stark, the Faraday
family’s longtime law firm, cleared his throat again and continued. “Nevertheless, it is a fact. Your father
has left you nothing.”
How did this happen?” Gillian leaned forward, her hands clenched together.
her emotion in her body language. We hear his discomfort in the clearing of his throat.
generally considered a good rule of thumb to use “said” and “asked” as your only dialogue tags and where
possible replace tags with body language to show the emotions expressed.
narrative has its place. It can add rhythmic variation to your writing. It can allow the reader a rest from
emotional scenes and keep the reader from becoming exhausted. Narrative gives the writer a chance to include
some necessary scene setting and description. And narrative is good for dealing with minor plot points that
don’t require a full scene themselves.
is that narration is easier to write than scenes, but taking the time to write rich action-filled scenes will
give your reader a more fulfilling experience, and likely guarantee that they will come looking for more of
your work to buy in the future.
About the Author: Judy Bagshaw has been published since 2000. Writing
romance featuring full-figured heroines, her publishing credits include several novels, a collection of short
stories, and short stories in multiple anthologies. She was also part of the writing team for the Ginn Reading
Series, and Reaching Readers Series, used in many elementary schools. Retired from teaching, she writes
full-time from her home in Ontario , Canada.
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