8 Words that Scream “Telling, Not Showing” in Your Writing

Love’s Courage is taking shape, and I have external motivation to keep working on it: an Advanced Novel Writing Class with Terri Valentine through Writers Digest University. I have submitted my first assignment, pages 1- 36, and the feedback I’ve gotten makes me wonder if I ever took a writing class. My dear friend, beta reader and editor, H.J. Smith assuaged my fear when she explained that while I’m writing, I’m using one part of my brain. Editing requires a different part of my brain. Sometimes I think the editing brain takes long vacations.

In her feedback, Terri gave me copious examples of showing vs. telling. What??? I used to drill that concept into my students’ heads. (I look to H.J. for comfort.) Here are eight words that scream “TELLING.” Like Terri did on my draft. Her comment was, “Any time you use a phrase like she knew, he felt, she heard, he saw, she watched, he realized, she wondered nine times out of ten you are telling.” If I eliminate these weak words, I tighten up my writing.

I’ll give an example of how I wrote the sentences initially, and how I revised to improve them.

Knew

“Sweat beaded on his upper lip. He knew what he was about to do could cost him his life. He looked out the window at Timothy Morley’s farmhouse where seven children lay sleeping. Tucking his knife into his belt, he gripped the hatchet in one hand the pistol in the other and took a deep breath.”

“Sweat beaded on his upper lip. What he was about to do could cost him his life. He looked out the window at Timothy Morley’s farmhouse where seven children lay sleeping. Tucking his knife into his belt, he gripped the hatchet in one hand the pistol in the other and took a deep breath.”

 

Felt

Jenny felt she had never seen such a beautiful sight. She edged up on the cot to receive the welcome offerings.

Jenny had never seen such a beautiful sight. She edged up on the cot to receive the welcome offerings.

 

 

Heard

Jenny heard her Uncle Jonathon’s voice in her mind, “It’s the only thing I’ll ask you to do. I promise.”

Uncle Jonathon’s voice echoed in her mind, “It’s the only thing I’ll ask you to do. I promise.”

 

Saw

Now, Constance’s brow creased. Jenny saw the fear in her mother’s eyes

Now, Constance’s brow creased, fear in her eyes.

 

Watched

Though her mother worked slowly taking great care not to hurt him, Edward moaned in pain. Jenny watched him grit his teeth in an effort to not cry out.

Though her mother worked slowly taking great care not to hurt him, Edward moaned in pain, gritting his teeth in an effort not to cry out.

 *Here’s a bonus. I fixed two problems in this sentence. The use of “watched” and eyes doing something they can’t do per my editor, Julie Sturgeon . Julie is great to work with, and I could sense her wincing when I read this sentence. 

She watched his eyes scan the yard, then return to hers.

His gaze scanned the yard, then returned to her.

 

Wondered

Another promise made. Again she wondered if it could be kept, because when she saved Uncle Jonathon’s life, Andrew was with her.

Another promise made. Could it be kept? Because when she saved Uncle Jonathon’s life, Andrew was with her.

 

Began

An acrid sulfur odor filled her nose as lightning began to dance around the ship.

An acrid sulfur odor filled her nose as lightning danced around the ship.

 

 Started

Saddened, she started to turn away.

Saddened, she turned away.

 

Have I heard all this before? You betcha. But it bears repeating, especially for writers whose editor brains are on vacation.

 

What weak words trip you up?

14 thoughts on “8 Words that Scream “Telling, Not Showing” in Your Writing

  1. Awesome post! I shared with my writing group. I’m guilty of all these, plus using perfect tenses. Like you, I KNOW all these rules, but I think we tend to write the way we speak, which is not always correct, and not concise.

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Thanks for sharing my post with your writing group, Patricia. Yes, we know these rules, but when our muse is whispering in our ear, all conventions fly out the window LOL

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      That’s what I did, Maris. I searched for each and tried to revise. Just got Terri’s feedback on my second submission of the next 10,000 words of my WIP, and she still found places where I was TELLING. This is a tough one for me 8-l

  2. Diana Lloyd says:

    Okay, wrote these “telling” words down and posted them by my computer as a reminder. I needed this today. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Two of my frequent slip-ups: seem–He seemed to always be in the wrong place.) and just–He just couldn’t seem to get his act together. Ha ha both in one sentence. Fixing: He was always in the wrong place and couldn’t get it together. Show and tell. It has taken me forever to really know the difference.

  4. Thank you for these practical tips and suggestions! Luana suggested I read your blog and I’m so grateful I did. As a newbie, it’s nice to know this is a universal issue and that even seasoned professionals sometimes get tripped up by this. Thanks again!

    • Elizabeth Meyette says:

      Oh, this is a life-long learning process, Tracie. When you think of all that is involved in creating a world, listening to your characters and layering on the various dimensions that makes a story live, it’s understandable that we all miss a few things. Wishing you all best with your writing.

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