Show -Versus- Tell: Why he asked and she said.

It’s been almost two weeks since my last confession…I mean post.

Anyway, in a previous post, I mentioned that typically readers overlook dialogue tags such as ‘asked’ and ‘said.’ This time let’s look at dialogue tags from the show versus tell perspective.

For starters, descriptive dialogue tags are lazy ways to evoke a response. And it’s telling. What do I mean by descriptive dialogue tags?

  • teased
  • interrupted
  • threatened
  • pouted
  • and many more

Rather than creative dialogue tags, a writer can convey a certain feeling to the reader by showing. So, let’s look at some examples.

  • “You like that, don’t you?” Sue teased. TELLING
  • Mischief twinkled in Sue’s eyes as her lips twitched into a smile. “You like that, don’t you? SHOWING

Telling that Sue teased leaves the dialogue lacking. What about Sue was teasing? If you show, you don’t have to tell your readers; the readers can decide for themselves.

  • “But I don’t–”
    “I’ve had just about enough of this,” Bret said. SHOWING
  • “But I don’t–”
    “I’ve had just about enough of this,” Bret interrupted. TELLING

The em dash already implies an interruption. Why bother telling what’s already self-explanatory? Give your readers some respect and treat them like they can actually think for themselves.

A technique I use, since I like visuals, is to close my eyes and play out the scene. What are the characters doing while speaking? What expressions are on their faces? Then, I write it.

Sometimes writers need to trust their readers. Let the readers make up their own mind without forcing them to understand what you’re trying to tell instead of show.

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