You might be familiar with the phrase “show, don’t tell” as a writer… Is it something you struggle with, or are you curious about what a fresh new take on that might look like? Well, that’s exactly what we’re addressing on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!
This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books.
TUNE IN NOW to learn how to implement the "show, don't tell" writing advice into your own book project... and to get a real-life example for how your host, Sagan Morrow, recently used this technique in her own upcoming romcom, Small Town Stilettos...
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Hello and welcome back to Indie Author Weekly! This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and the behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books. I’m your host, Sagan Morrow (or @Saganlives on Twitter & Instagram), and I’m a productivity strategist and an author of polyamorous romcoms.
Now, you might be familiar with the phrase “show, don’t tell” as a writer… Is it something you struggle with, or are you curious about what a fresh new take on that might look like? Well, that’s exactly what we’re addressing on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!
But first, don’t miss an episode: You can now get all Indie Author Weekly podcast episodes plus book and writing updates delivered directly to your inbox each week at SaganMorrow.com/behindthescenes—link is in the show notes.
Now let’s get into this episode of the Indie Author Weekly podcast. Today, I want to share about how I improved my current work-in-progress romcom by using the “show, don’t tell” technique to strengthen a relationship dynamic—and I did it in a way that you might not have expected.
Some backstory: As you know, if you’ve been listening to Indie Author Weekly for any length of time, I’m currently working on a romantic comedy titled Small Town Stilettos: a modern marriage of convenience. You can learn all about it at SaganMorrow.com/books — link is in the show notes.
I’m recording this episode 3 weeks before it goes live, and at this stage of the rewriting process, I’ve been working on developing the relationships a lot more. For example, the main character, Margaret “Peggy” Malcolm, is in a bit of a love triangle situation: she needs to marry her childhood sweetheart, Logan Finley, in order to access her inheritance... buuuut she also has a thing for another blast from her past, Matthew Blaine.
The entire story of Small Town Stilettos explores duality, and one of the things that I struggled with for a while with this story was the relationship between Margaret and Matthew. I knew that they were bonding over their love for the city and their shared distaste for the small town they’re both stuck in, but I was having a tough time building on that and getting the reader to really root for Matthew.
Because Logan is awesome: he’s super into Margaret, he’s ready to settle down and have a relationship with her, he’s the guy she’s being forced to marry. They butt heads but they also have a lot of chemistry. And in my first few drafts of Small Town Stilettos, I focused a lot more on developing the relationship between Margaret and Logan… and honestly, the relationship between Matthew and Margaret wasn’t jumping off the page the way that I wanted it to. I knew there was so much simmering beneath the surface between them that wasn’t quite making its way into the novel.
So I took a step back last month and revisited perhaps the most classic and well-known writing advice out there: “Show, don’t tell.”
The concept of “show, don’t tell” is that you are painting a word picture for your reader, so that they can visualize your story in their mind’s eye. At a very simple level, here’s an example of telling: “She was amused.” Here’s an example of showing: “Her eyes crinkled with amusement as she burst out laughing.” You can see the difference.
So, I took that concept of showing instead of telling a step further. Because so much of the relationship development between Margaret and Matthew seemed to be happening off the page, I was trying to figure out the best way to show them connecting, without adding a bunch of extra scenes. After all, adding more scenes isn’t always the best approach! In fact, adding a bunch of extra scenes can really harm your story if they’re just shoved in there.
What I did instead was to add text message conversations between Margaret and Matthew, after every single chapter. And I LOVED this approach. We get to see little snippets of them being cute and flirty and funny together, so that their relationship makes much more sense to the reader. The reader really cares about them and likes them as a couple. Showing bits and pieces of their text message conversations is a simple but effective way to bring the reader into their relationship on an intimate level, as the story progresses.
If you’re feeling stuck with the concept of “show don’t tell,” then an excellent question to ask yourself is, “What would make the reader be able to visualize XYZ more easily?” That’s how I got to the idea of including texting conversations, because one scene of Small Town Stilettos actually mentioned something about how Margaret and Matthew had been exchanging flirty texts all week. And when I was trying to figure out how to best illustrate their relationship dynamic, I thought to myself, “You know what would make this stronger? If the reader could actually SEE those text messages.” And then I thought, “Well, why can’t the reader see those messages?” And voila! Texting conversations are now a staple in the novel.
Showing instead of telling doesn’t need to be overly complicated or complex. In fact, sometimes the simplest shifts are the most powerful for getting your message across in your novel. It’s a valuable skill that all of us, as writers, can continue to improve upon with time.
By the way, when you hire an editor for your novel, this may be something that they can help you with: depending on the type of editor you hire, they might flag parts of your novel when you focus too much on “telling” versus “showing,” and they might also have recommendations for rewording sections to ensure that you start doing a better job of showing than telling.
Sidebar: I have quite a few freelance editors who have gone through my productivity e-courses and coaching services, so if you’re looking at hiring an editor, two “graduates” of my programs who jump to mind right now—both of whom are committed to continually developing their skills & services, which I love to see!—include Richelle Braswell (she shares great writing & editing tips on Twitter: @RBCEditing) and Alicia Chantal (she’s very involved in the writing & editing community, and her Twitter handle is @FreshLookEdit). There you go! End of sidebar.
I hope this helps you as you explore more ways to transition more into showing, and less into telling, with your own writing. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, get creative, and have fun with it! Play around and experiment to see what works best for you, for your writing style, and for your story.
I also want to note that as writers, there are SO MANY different writing tips and tons of writing advice out there, and you might feel exhausted by it. You might be in a position where you want to improve your writing, but you aren’t sure how to implement all of the advice out there.
In that case, start with one piece of writing advice. Build your skills with it, and then move onto the next piece of writing advice. If the “show don’t tell” concept is something that appeals to you, then why not focus on it for one draft of your story, and then for the next draft of your story, you can focus on something else?
The more that you implement writing tips and advice in this way, slowly over time, the more your writing will improve, because you won’t be pulled in a million different directions. You’ll more easily be able to get good at one writing skill, and then add another, and another. Your writing style, voice, and skills will develop in this way over time, and you’ll be able to see your own improvements and progress on a continual, consistent basis as a result. It’s one of the best parts about being an author, in my opinion—your improvements and progress are right there on the page for you to see.
All right. That, my friend, is a wrap for today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly. And just a reminder as well, be sure to add Small Town Stilettos to your “Want To Read” list on Goodreads so you get updates on it as it progresses! Search “Small Town Stilettos” on Goodreads, or visit the show notes. Speaking of which, you can access the show notes for this episode, including all links and additional resources, at SaganMorrow.com/podcast.
Thank you so much for tuning in. Please take 2 minutes to rate and review Indie Author Weekly on Apple Podcasts—I really appreciate your support.
Until next week, this is Sagan Morrow, signing off the Indie Author Weekly podcast.