Don’t “tell” on top of beats that “show”
On February 12, 2018 | 0 Comments | Writing tips |

In previous posts I’ve discussed how useful beats (action) are to show your readers instead of telling them. I also advised against using beats too often because it can dilute their effect. Another way to devalue the impact of beats is by telling readers what those beats are already showing.

For example, the following beats do a solid job of letting us know what the character is thinking:

  • He slammed his cup down so hard that it broke. (His action shows us that he’s angry.)
  • She rolled her eyes. (Her action shows us that she’s irritated/exasperated.)
  • She batted her eyelashes. (Her action shows us that she’s being flirtatious.)
  • He furrowed his brow. (His action shows us that he’s confused.)

When writers tell us what the beats are already showing us, it can become a problem if done too frequently. I recently read a novel in which the author included an explanation after almost every beat, and as a result I found myself repeatedly thinking, “Why is she telling me this? Doesn’t she see how obvious it is that (insert name of character) is (insert adjective)?”

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • He slammed his cup down so hard that it broke, furious.
  • She rolled her eyes in exasperation.
  • She batted her eyelashes, flirting.
  • He furrowed his brow in confusion.

Am I the only one who finds these explanations unnecessary? I doubt it. Readers are smart, so respect that intelligence. We might all have a tendency to tell too much in the first draft, but that’s what revisions are for! It’s never fun to cut your own words, but your writing will be better for it, and your readers will appreciate it.




This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2018 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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