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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thursday Spotlight: Toni Noel

Write to Show, Not Tell

Today we're looking at telling words so you can identify and eliminating these words from your writing.

Try this. Open one of your manuscript in your word processing program and, using the FIND command, search on the word seemed. Count the number of times you used this word.

Surprised? Take heart. You are not alone, but that doesn't make the use of seemed okay.

Telling words like appeared, seemed, felt, saw, watched, thought, wondered and even the pronoun they find their way into published writing even though not the author's intent.

All novels have some telling -- events that are of necessity summarized. The problem arises when this happens too often. Something as simple as putting a thought into dialogue or by not distancing the reader from the action allows you to show -- not tell -- the reader what is happening without relying on telling words.
The secret is in recognizing these words and eliminating them from your writing whenever possible. I read that adding tension to narration increases reader interest, turning the telling into showing. Try it yourself. I know. It's hard. Most things worth doing in life are.

Now let's look at the opening of your manuscript, another place where you might be telling instead of showing.

Did you take three paragraphs to set the story? Introduce the heroine? Have her take tiptoe through the tulips before any action begins? That's telling. It's much better to cut those first three paragraphs. Simply give the reader a sense of place and dive right to the action, leaving the reader breathless. No backstory. No foreshadowing (yet). The barest hint at an unanswered story question on that first page can reel in a reader (or an editor). 

Create immediacy. Focus on the character and what he is feeling, by showing, not telling.

Another way to show, not tell, is to involve the reader through dialogue.

There will be times you must use narrative to tell the story. Use dramatic narrative written with active words packed with emotion. Describe the heroine's anger at the needless death. Show the hero erupt with road rage, then hint at why he reacts so irrationally at the simple beep of a horn, slipping some backstory into the narrative.

Does your plot require that your characters search for something important? And does that search take up a lot of their time? Don't leave the reader out of the search. Let the reader be a part of it by having the search take place on the pages of the novel, not in a summary. This builds tension and keeps the reader involved.

Flesh out your characters by interweaving motivation and backstory. Use active words, not an information dump to do this.

For immediacy and intimacy let the reader in on the hero's secrets.

Let's look at some examples:

Example of telling (and passive writing): There was no way she could afford a new roof.
An active fix:  A new roof? Not on a first-year teacher's pay.

To find when I'm telling in my writing, I use Toni's Search Word List, and go right down the list of telling words, searching for each occurrence and revising the sentence or entire scene to show, not tell.

Here's how to get a list of Toni's Search Words:

Go to

Send an e-mail from there and I'll attach the list to my reply. While there, check out my latest release, Law Breakers and Love Makers, a romantic suspense available now for download from Desert Breeze Publishing.


Stephanie Burkhart said...

Toni awesome example of a passive fix. I love what you've done with this week.


MaryG said...

This is is so timely and helpful. I sure do struggle with those telling words. Thank you.

Toni Noel said...

Hi, Steph,

At one time or another all writers have a problem with passivity. Learning to recognize it and then correct it really improved my writing.


Toni Noel said...

Hi, Mary,
Thanks for stopping by. It's so difficult to decide when to summarize, but not to do it too often, isn't it?

Good luck with your writing.


Toni Noel said...

Hi, Mary,
Thanks for stopping by. It's so difficult to decide when to summarize, but not to do it too often, isn't it?

Good luck with your writing.