Writing Tips: Show, Don’t Tell


CC Commons Photo: Vanalman

In fiction, it’s best to show the various aspects of a character or situation, as opposed to telling your reader what to think. This advice may seem a bit ephemeral, so here are a few concrete examples:

“I’ve just started seeing someone,” Julia said. She didn’t want to sound like she’d been sitting by the phone all this time.

“I’ve just started seeing someone,” Julia said noncommittally. (This shows how Julia was feeling, as opposed to telling the reader how she felt.)

Here’s another example:

Carl was a modest guy who wasn’t comfortable accepting praise. When his manager said the new ad campaign was working well, Carl just ducked his head and went back into his cubicle.

Showing  the action, rather than describing it, can be much more effective:

“Hey, great job on that new ad campaign,” Tom said. “You really knocked it out of the park.” “Thanks,” Carl muttered. He glanced down at the Styrofoam cup in his hand. “Guess I’d better get back to work.” He ducked into his cubicle and began shuffling papers.

Have a question about writing? Comment or email me at leslie@lesliewellsbooks.com

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a novel about publishing and rock and roll set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com

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