Rule #8 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #8

8: Show, don’t tell. Much vaunted advice, yet rarely heeded. An example: expressing emotion indirectly. Is your preferred reader intelligent? Yes? Then treat them accordingly. Tears were streaming down Lila’s face. She was very sad. Can the second sentence be inferred from the first? In context, let’s hope so. So cut it. If you want to engage your readers, don’t explain everything to them. Show them what’s happening and allow their intelligence to do the rest. And there’s a bonus to this approach. Because movies, of necessity, show rather than tell, this approach to your writing will help when it’s time to begin work on the screenplay adaptation of your novel!

I have to admit that I am guilty of this, and when I’m writing, I don’t even realize it.  I KNOW not to do this, and I can pick it out in someone else’s novel in a second.

So why is it in my own?  I’m not really sure, to be honest, but when a beta reader points it out, I always scratch my head and say, “How the heck did that get in there?”

Let’s reiterate SHOW DON’T TELL.  For instance:

Tell:  The vicious dog barked at the fence

Show: The dog’s lip curled up as he snarled, his teeth biting through the chain link fencing.

In the second example, we don’t come out and say he is vicious.  If you’ve done your job well enough, your reader should be able to figure that out.  Also, you will notice, there is quite a different emotional reaction in the second sentence, isn’t there?  That’s the magic of show rather than tell.  The shown image sinks in and resonates with the reader.

Pluck out a telly sentence from your own novel and try to change it up.  How did you do?

JenniFer_Eaton Sparkle__F


13 responses to “Rule #8 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

  1. Kourtney Heintz

    Great post! This is one of the first things I was told at writing conferences but one of the last things I really understood and could implement in my writing. 🙂

    I think of it as keeping the reader actively engaged when they have to infer things. If you spoon feed them they don’t need to do anything and their minds will wander.

  2. Sandra's Stories

    I really tried to read this post, but the “feed the fishes” thing kept distracting me. 😦

  3. Takes work, but I’m on it. I have a problem between not enough narrative and tell. Ugh.
    Love these posts.

  4. Sometimes I think my entire first drafts read like one long ‘tell’. They’re not but they feel like it! Oooooo, hello fishies …

  5. I belong to a writer’s critique group and we are always working on this problem in each other’s manuscripts. We always need to look for the word ‘was’ being used with a verb. For example, “was running” “was crying” we need to change it to “ran” and “cried” or perhaps even more active verbs like “raced” or “sobbed”. These are just a few of the things we’ve discussed in our writer’s group. Thanks for the informative post.

  6. I am sure I could find too many instances of this in my work in progress. After I do my slash and burn edits maybe I will look at it through this lens.

  7. I do it all the time. hopefully some day I’ll learn to stop the madness so I’ll have less editing to do in the end. 🙂

  8. I’m in the middle of editing at the minute and it’s these kinds of things I’m looking for. Great post