Show Don't Tell


So how can you show the way the words are spoken?” Please, not by attaching an adverb like angrily, sadly, or happily, or worse yet, by adding the word “very” to intensify that adverb. That’s telling, not showing. Whether or not you use the word “said,” show the emotion with an accompanying gesture, facial expression, body language, or description of the speaker’s tone of voice.


For example, “You are mean,” Sue said through trembling lips, her index finger stabbing the air with each word. By inserting a bit of action in the form of a gesture, your readers will be able to infer the emotion for themselves. Or, instead of a gesture, describe the speaker’s tone of voice. For example, instead of writing “Tom screamed,” describe his tone of voice: “Tom said in a voice like the shriek of a wounded animal.”


So, I recommend you convey the manner in which the remark is spoken by either a gesture or a description of the speaker’s tone. That way, you’ll be showing not telling. Here’s an example from the first scene of THE DEADLIEST THIEF:


She grabbed at her neck, clawed at her chest, and spurted a rope of vomit. Her face clenched in horror, she turned her bulging eyes toward her satchel and said the word “document” before letting out a ragged gurgle, stiffening convulsively, and passing into eternity.


I used the word "said," but the body language and facial expression show it all.


THE DEADLIEST THIEF was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for best mystery. I hope you’ll like it too. To find out more, just click here.


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