Top Menu

more show and less tell

Rework Your Story to Get More Show and Less Tell

Get More Show and Less Tell in Your Memoir

There are ways to rework your stories so that you can minimize “telling” and maximize “showing.” The biggest “telling” offense against more show and less tell is perhaps the overuse of descriptive adjectives and adverbs.

Adjectives and adverbs often tell the reader what to feel or how to interpret the story instead of evoking that feeling and interpretation. While adjectives may seem to add color and movement and insight to a scene or description, they are often simply a lazy way to write. This is especially true of descriptive adjectives like beautiful and kind and nice!

One possible solution to this problem is not especially difficult. Replace at least half of your descriptive adjectives and adverbs with settings, dialogue, and actions.

The Develop Vivid Characters Program

  • Are the characters in your memoir captivating your readers—rather than boring them?
  • Are you at a loss—“Help! What can I do!”—about how to make the people in your memoir more relatable?Develop Vivid Characters
  • Are you embarrassed by the “stick” characters you have presented? “She really was a complex person, but I don’t know how to show her that way.”
The Develop Vivid Characters Program is a text and audio to set you in the right direction to write better portrayed and more delineated characters. Your readers will love the results.
On sale at a 35 % discount through December 4, 2023.  Was $39.95, now $24.95.
For more info and to buy, click here.
Use Coupon Code: DVC35

Yes, half. That’s 50%.

Here are examples of how to convert adjectives and adverbs into more effective writing:

~ into action:
…she said angrily might become…she said, picking up the mail and tearing it into shreds.

~ into setting:
We were poor might become: In the living room, the linoleum rug was ripped along the edges and black streak marks showed where the boards beneath were uneven.

~ into dialogue:
She was passive-aggressive might become: She said, “I’m not angry. I haven’t given it a second thought, you bastard.”

Whenever I present this option in a workshop, someone says, “But you tell us all the time to be more concise in our writing. In fact, you have the 10% rule that we need to eliminate that much from our text before we turn it out on the world. What gives?”

They’re just different rules. The reworking I’m suggesting here does not produce a shorter more economical text. In fact, it usually results in a longer text. Length is not its goal. More evocative writing is.

Replacing 50% of your descriptive adjectives with dialog and action produces a more impactful text.

Try it and see if you don’t like the results.

Here’s an Exercise to help you get started:

Go through a lifestory that you have already written and which you consider to be finished. Underline all the adjectives and adverbs in this story. Replace at least half of these with action, setting, and dialogue.

Doesn’t this exercise in more show and less tell make you appreciate the need to linger, to keep your stories from premature conclusion?

What would happen to the memoir conversation if…

  • …you took a moment to present this informative post to your friends and family by linking this article on your social media? Just a click. It’s so easy.
  • …you reposted this article on your own blog or website? It’s free and you’d both have some valuable content to boost your blog’s reputation and you would be providing your readers with valuable guidance. For the best procedure on how to do this, click here.
  • …you subscribed to our YouTube channel?

, , ,

4 Responses to Rework Your Story to Get More Show and Less Tell

  1. Viga Boland January 11, 2018 at 8:07 AM #

    Just love this article Denis. Can I re-publish to my website at memoirabilia dot ca with full credits to you, of course, and links back to this page etc?

  2. Denis Ledoux January 11, 2018 at 8:15 AM #

    Absolutely, Viga. I am flattered that you should want to reprint and link. Thanks.

  3. Sarah White January 11, 2018 at 9:02 AM #

    Note how each “show” example is considerably longer than each “tell”. This is a choice every memoir writer struggles with, in my experience– finding the right pacing to “show” as much as possible, without the book growing much too long in the process! I try to focus the action of each chapter or essay on a scene with plenty of “show” but let “telling” control the necessary segues & leaps in time that take the reader from one scene to the next.

    I’ve been enjoying your blog, Denis!

  4. Denis Ledoux January 11, 2018 at 9:09 AM #

    Good point you make. Yes, length is a definite challenge. Of course, there is a time when telling is appropriate. If you are getting a character through a town so that s/he goes from home to a park, for instance, you can simply write “We crossed town together.” No need to mention every shop or car or tree you pass. On the other hand, if you want to portray the socio-economic feel of the community, this is a great opportunity to go into details.

    My rule of thumb for length? As long as it needs to be and not word more!

    Sarah, keep writing. I know you will, of course!

Leave a Reply