Writing Tip: Show, Don’t Tell

One of the simplest edits to make when revising your draft is to look for areas where you, as an author, is unintentionally telling your readers what to think or how to feel.

The best books are complex and sometimes leave you as a reader, feeling many different emotions about a character. Maybe you start off hating a character until you read their backstory and realize you actually feel sorry for them and can kind of understand why they act the way they do.

With Becoming American, many of my personal edits involved better description of facial expressions or body language. What did his face look like when he was talking? How was he standing? Was he casually leaning against a railing (at ease) or was he standing straight, with his shoulders back (formal and tense). These little tweaks will give readers an idea of whether the character was angry, surprised, relaxed, tense etc. and makes it much more interesting to read.

For example, which would you rather read:

“Billy was angry.” or

“Billy’s hands curled into two fists. His face turned red as he glared at his big brother. He whipped around and stormed up the stairs.”

Here’s another example of telling readers how to feel about something:

“She wore a beautiful dress.”

What if the author’s idea of a beautiful dress is something a reader would think is hideous or too revealing? Was it a wedding dress or a prom dress? Short or long? Sequins, lace or satin? You might like sequins, but I might think they’re scratchy or ugly.

Instead, describe the dress and let the readers decide. If you want to show the character felt uncomfortable, maybe you can describe how tight the dress was or how the sequins felt against her skin. If she feels awkward in the dress, what’s her body language like?

So, as simple as this is, there are several times I’ve gone through my manuscript and found areas in which I wasn’t giving my readers enough credit and telling them something versus allowing them to form their own opinions and feelings. It’s an easy mistake to make, but easy to fix as well!

I hope this helps:)

Happy writing & revising.