SHOW, don’t TELL, in your dialogue
On August 9, 2021 | 0 Comments | Writing tips |

I frequently see authors break the show vs. tell rule in dialogue by using words other than “said” or “asked.” This weakens the writing when done too often.

For example, here are some examples from a novel I recently read. In this scene, Ben and Lisa are the ONLY characters in the room:

“What’s she doing here?” Ben asked.

“Who?” Lisa responded.

“The crazy nanny,” Ben answered.

Why it’s breaking the show vs. tell rule and weakening the writing: 

It is clear that Lisa is responding to Ben’s question with a question, and it is clear that Ben is responding to Lisa’s question with an answer. Using “Lisa responded” and “Ben answered” is telling, not showing. It’s also overkill.

Here’s a way to show in this example:

“What’s she doing here?” Ben asked.

“Who?”

He glanced toward the corner. “The crazy nanny.”

Note: When there are just two people in a conversation, there’s no need to use each character’s name in every single line. The readers get it!

Here’s another example:

“I think I need to kill the accounting story with some good marketing news,” asserted Brian.

Why it’s breaking the show vs. tell rule and weakening the writing:

Why tell us that Brian is asserting that he needs to kill the story? It’s clear from the context of his statement that he is making an assertion. If the author wants to emphasize that, why not have Brian pound a fist on the desk? Or swipe a finger across his neck? Those actions will show us that Brian is asserting that he needs to kill the story.

Here’s another example:

Jane was panicked. “We’re going to get fired!”

“At least we’ll get fired together,” Kerry reassured her.

Why it’s breaking the show vs. tell rule and weakening the writing:

By virtue of what Kerry is saying, it is clear that she is reassuring Jane. Adding “Kerry reassured her,” is telling, and it’s overkill. To show in this example, why not have Kerry give Jane’s arm a squeeze? Or have her put an arm around Jane’s shoulders? Those are gestures of reassurance.

The next time you sit down to write dialogue, keep these examples in mind. Stronger dialogue leads to stronger writing!

 

 

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