Friday, September 30, 2016

The More You Know, The More You'll Save: Part IX ~ Show, Don't Tell

by Alycia W. Morales

As authors, we're always looking for ways to save money and time. This is the ninth post in a series that is meant to help you save both. On the front end, putting forth the effort to learn these points will cost you some time, but in the long run, it will save you money on professional edits.

Last week, we went over avoiding repetition. This week, we'll take a look at Showing vs. Telling and Active vs. Passive Writing.

Show, don't tell! It's an editor's mantra some days. Throughout my years as an editor, I've come to realize that a lot of telling is also just passive writing, plain and simple. So how do we know we're doing it? And how do we fix it?

The simplest form of passive writing comes when we use passive verbs. Search your manuscript for "was" and "were." If your characters was running, he ran. If they were going to the store, they went. Use the active verb, usually with a past tense, -ed ending. The exception would be if you're writing in present tense, of course, or modifying.

Next, search your manuscript for "began" or "started." If a character began to sweat, she was already sweating, so "she sweat." Remember, if we start or begin to do something, we're doing it. Use the active verb. Leave out "started" and "began."

Another common sign of inactive or passive writing is using the words "caused" or "made." This signifies an emotion or an action or something someone said acting upon the character instead of the character simply responding to it. For example, "The noise caused Ella to jump." Instead, try, "A clap of thunder echoed across the valley. Ella jumped."

If your character "watched," "observed," "noticed," or "saw" something another character was doing or something another character portrayed, you're in passive writing mode. Let the thing happen, rather than having your character observe it happening. When they watch something, you've removed them from their third person POV and made them an omniscient narrator.

Naming emotions is a clear tell that you're telling instead of showing, and it's one of the most common things authors do. Find a way to show the reader that your character is angry instead of saying that something another character said angered him. Facial expressions, body language, something he says. These are all great ways to show the reader your character is angry.

Shortcuts are never good in writing. It leaves the reader wanting more and likely to drop your book and pick up another. Make sure your character is experiencing the world around her, rather than the world around her affecting everything she does and says. The reader wants to experience life with her, not have her tell them what is happening. These are the keys to showing vs. telling.

How do you know if you're showing or telling? A few hints via @AlyciaMorales {Click to Tweet}

Show and Tell and the Writer {Click to Tweet}


  1. Ugh. I'm tired of editing.:) "Caused" caught me. Oh, "watched" probably laughs at me. My question is ... how many times can a mistake hide from the person doing the edits? Ha. I think I need to go to bed before two in the morning.

    1. Hi Karen! Trust me, a mistake can hide forever from the person doing the edits. It's quite normal. ;)


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