Are you breaking the “show vs. tell” rule in your dialogue?
On November 20, 2017 | 0 Comments | Writing tips |

If you’re not familiar with the “show vs. tell” rule, the gist of it is that you want to show your readers events or feelings instead of telling them.

I frequently see this rule broken in dialogue by authors who choose overly descriptive verbs that force-feed us the character’s sentiment. When I encounter too much of this I find myself pulled out of the story–and kind of irritated because I feel the author is treating me like a child instead of allowing me to use my brain.

For example, here are some sentences that tell instead of show:

  • “Get ready for a bumpy ride,” she warned.
  • “Sounds like you’re really climbing that corporate ladder,” she noted.
  • “I can’t believe how huge this airport is,” he remarked.
  • “You wish I would join your team,” she retorted.

I think sentences like the above happen because some authors believe they should use any word other than “said” in their dialogue, when in reality “said” is exactly what they should be using, if anything at all.

The solution

To improve your writing, get rid of (most of) the substitutions for “said” and sprinkle in some beats. Beats are physical movements that show us what the characters are doing as they speak.

For example:

  • “Get ready for a bumpy ride,” she said as she fastened her seatbelt.
  • She arched an eyebrow. “Sounds like you’re really climbing that corporate ladder.”
  • He turned his head as if on a swivel. “I can’t believe how huge this airport is.”
  • She scoffed. “You wish I would join your team.”

Do you see the difference? The first sentences tell us, while the second ones show us. Readers will enjoy your story more if they can visualize what is happening, so work on allowing that to happen! Don’t go overboard with beats, though. As with most things, moderation is best.



This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2017 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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