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.

Yes, half. That’s 50%.

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

A writing coach can help you at every step of the process. Having “been there and done that”—and being able to talk clearly about it, a memoir-writing coach can point you in the right direction and gently correct your course.The Memoir Network Ghostwriting Services

A coach is a teacher, a cheerleader, a critic, a motivator, a writing buddy, a person who holds you accountable for meeting your goals, a good listener, and sometimes an editor—and a coach can be more if you need more.

For a free consult, call 207-353-5454 today to make an appointment.

Click here to read more about coaching.


~ 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?

The Memoir Network blog reposting” width=And now this one thing…

This post is one of over 500 informative, well-written articles we have made available to you on this site.

We’ve contributed to your writing success; now we ask you to contribute to the expansion of the memoir conversation.

By reposting this article on your blog or website or reposting on your favorite social media, you will inform your fellow memoir writers of the programs and services—many for free like the blogs—that are available at TheMemoirNetwork.com.

Thanks for your generosity. You rock.


, , ,

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