Friday, May 29, 2015

How I 'show not tell,' or that's what I hope ... #amwriting #romance #writing

Show not Tell the modern writers' lament ...

 I've noticed, particularly in romance with all its sub-genres, the requirement to show not tell has become a source of stress. Maybe I've just seen more posts and comments in social media from romance authors about this.

What's brought me to the point of writing a blog about the issue? In a recent manuscript I had two places where it was important to tell, shock horror, my editor wanted me to show not tell. I ignored her. It seemed to me that in 25K of words if I only had two places she could identify as telling then she could fuck off. In every story there will be some telling. It can't be all show. 

I recently read a few erotic romances that also helped force this blog post from me.
I read romance, mystery, detective stories, adventure stories, science-fiction, in fact, I read heaps, but only in all the romance genres do I see some of the most ridiculous ways the author has obviously devised to show not tell.

I can't say I blame them. I never write a bad review or denigrate their work in any way because, hell, I'm doing the same. Maybe I found it harder to show not tell in the beginning because a lot of my day job involves factual descriptive writing. The showing in this case is a picture of the item in the brochure or auction catalog.

Try to always show the action instead of using the word , was, and you simply can't. 

Try to dream up more than say ten ways of showing someone feels something without resorting to curly phrases. 

Here are some ways to show not tell and other things I've learned over the years.

I've developed a way of making things easier over the last few years of writing romance. I lead with action where I possibly can. I use an active voice. (describes a sentence where the subject performs the action stated by the verb.)  I use specific details and sensory images. It's helped me, but as a tactic to totally eliminate telling it hasn't worked. The reason ... you can't eliminate it, or the writing becomes so detailed, so long that readers can be turned off. I've seen it become boring, too. 

I mix the length of my sentences, some long some short. For loads of emphasis I will sometimes have a handful of short sentences together. 

From Rescuing Cade a mix of tactics,

She put out a hand to his upper arm.
“Don’t leave yet, Cade. You came here for a reason. Maybe I can help you discover why.”
Her hand on his arm burned right through his suit jacket and shirt, forcing goose bumps to raise all the way to his jaw. He glanced at her hand and shrugged it off, eager to rid himself of the strange effect, but he didn’t leave. He gazed at her. Could he tell another woman what Jayne had said? Maybe it will help. I won’t see Marissa again. I’ll never be back here.

“I came with a friend, a member of The Club, who thought the lifestyle might help me, to, well, to regain confidence …” Cade saw Marissa’s expression change. A flicker of amusement passed through her eyes. Cade’s heart sank.
Copyright Elodie Parkes 2015 Evernight Publishing

I mix showing with telling. This is a story I'm writing after all. I also write in scenes. I use dialogue as a way of building a picture where appropriate.
My work is never in first person and I think that helps me show not tell.

The whole point of showing is to engage the reader in a picture of what's going on. Instead of telling them, make them feel it with sensory words and descriptors. Sentences that paint the picture of what a character is feeling interspersed with a little scene descriptor and a sentence or two of telling, makes the story flow. Dialogue between the characters helps, too.

Here is a passage from The Summer Heat that mixes all the tips above to give what I hope is an interesting, engaging picture of the two heroes.

Evan narrowed his eyes with suspicion. “Not seeing Annabel tonight then? Look, don’t stop seeing her for me. Don’t think you have to keep poor, lonely, Evan company like I’m some lame duck.”

Nate winced. “That’s not it. You’re still my best friend. You think you’re in love with her don’t you? Maybe you are. Ask her out, check out your feelings.”

Evan snorted. “Will you stop? Maybe this, maybe that. I’m not happy about the way I feel. It’s a fucking shock if you must know.”

Nate pushed his coffee cup to one side and leaned close to Evan. “Don’t screw up our friendship. She likes you. We’ve said she gave us both come on signals. Test it out. Don’t storm off from where you live to a houseboat on the river.” He cast around for the right words as he compared the usually happy, even-tempered way Evan met life with his outburst. “This isn’t like you. Hell, Evan, frankly I’m … distraught.”

Evan silently stared into Nate’s eyes, until Nate looked away.

He traced a wrinkle in the blue checked tablecloth with his finger. “Evan, I’m just saying. I love her, but I could stand to see you with her, too. You’ve noticed she’s attracted to you. We could both see her. It happens.”

Evan stood abruptly, gave Nate a look of incredulity, and then stormed off along the seafront toward his boat sheds. His coffee cup rattled on the saucer as the table shook from the force of his departure.

Nate took a deep breath. Well, that went just fucking great. About to return to his office, he froze when Evan strode back and dragged the chair to the table from the yard or so away he’d tossed it on leaving.

“Let me get this straight. You’re saying you wouldn’t mind if I asked Annabel out … that we could both see her. Assuming she wants that. You do know I’d make love to her? We’d share her? I don’t know how I feel about that … yet, but we could try it. Once it started though, I couldn’t go back to not seeing her. Just sayin’.” Evan frowned and ran his hands through his hair.

Nate nodded. “I wouldn’t mind …if she agreed. I love her, but hell, look at the shape you’re in. You mean a lot to me. We might as well be brothers. There are things I couldn’t have got through without you being around.”

Evan leaned back in his chair, his frown gone. He picked up a napkin and blotted the coffee splashed on the table top.

Copyright Elodie Parkes 2014 Evernight Publishing The Summer Heat, contemporary menage erotic romance


She pulled back her quilt and invited him into bed.
Jason dropped his towel and cuddled Simi close.
The softness of her skin had increased even further with her shower. Her hair was damp, and Jason wound the length around his hand and pulled her head to his for a kiss. A light herb fragrance surrounded him. Her returning kiss was deliciously sexy. He crushed her to his body.
He left his face close to hers when he finally ended the kiss. He wanted to make love to her, but his heavy eyelids closed.
Simi stilled beside him and he fell asleep.

©Elodie Parkes: Siren Publishing


Ten tips to avoid telling can be found at

There's even a Wiki page about show not tell,,_don%27t_tell

A cool list of ways to show not tell can be found at,

For a run down on show not tell that backs up what I've said above visit,
This post also goes into detail about writing styles and POV, but it's a good post.

I'm leaving you with this thought. Sometimes it's a fine line between show and tell. Sometimes writers get told not to do this and that. I think if readers love what you've written then you've got something right. Good luck to you all.
If you know any better tips and websites for help, please comment on this blog for others.

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