Friday, June 4, 2010

Action, Thoughts & Dialogue 'Show a Story' by Roseanne Dowell

The last instalment of Roseanne Dowell's 'How to Show a Story' guest post. If you're viewing these posts for the first time, please scroll down to read the previous two instalments. Welcome back, Roseanne!

Beware of letting the Author's Voice Intrude
Now let’s talk about adverbs again. Another important rule is to avoid adverbs. Many new writers make the mistake of adding adverbs to the verb repeating what the verb shows us. ‘She rushed hurriedly through the store.’ instead of’ She rushed through the store. Rushed shows us she was in a hurry, you don’t need to repeat it with the word hurriedly. Usually a verb will show better than an adverb. Adverbs tell not show. It’s important to show the story. Readers want to see the characters, relate to them, feel what they feel and we can’t do that by adding adverbs. Adverbs weaken the story. They are the author’s voice intruding into our relationship with our characters.

When we show a story we do more to describe our characters then any adjectives. We don’t need to tell the reader what the room looked like or what the character looks like, they will form their own opinions just from hearing their thoughts and seeing their actions. How then do we describe our character? That’s not to say, we shouldn’t use description. We should, but we need to do it through the character’s POV.

We don’t want to put them in front of a mirror although that is one trick to giving physical description. But that’s usually telling us what the character looked like. We can describe them physically in the beginning, but again the author’s voice intrudes.

So how then do we get the description across to our readers?

Use POV to Relay Description
Carolyn brushed a strand of long blond hair from her black jacket. If her hair didn’t quit falling out soon, she’d be bald before she turned thirty. The doctor said nerves caused it, but she wasn’t so sure. After all what did she have to be nervous about? Her upcoming wedding? Not likely, she and Stephen were ecstatic and enjoyed making plans. And she couldn’t believe they agreed on just about everything.

Okay we now know Carolyn has long blond hair and isn’t yet thirty, and you, the author didn’t tell us. The reader can surmise the hairstyle but we know it’s long. Our readers will all picture a different character anyway. No two readers will necessarily picture what you picture for your character – and that’s okay. As long as we make it clear in the beginning of the story the age of our character. There’s nothing worse than reading and two chapters later discover the young woman we thought we were reading about is really a sixty-five year old grandmother. We need to introduce this in some way early on in the story as I did with Carolyn. Now that doesn’t mean you need to tell us the age of your character, but through some action as with Carolyn’s thoughts, we need to figure out an approximate age. Take Carolyn, with long blond hair and her upcoming wedding and thinking she’ll be bald before she’s thirty, we know she isn’t a sixty-five year old grandmother. We could have made her older, many women get married after thirty and later. in the story we need to let the reader know something else about her to indicate her age.

But does it make a difference? Can the reader put her at the age they want, as long as they know she’s not an old woman? Certainly if it’s not important to the story, however if Carolyn’s age has something to do with the plot then we’ll figure a way to show her exact age as I did in my example. Another way is to have her think about her last birthday.

It wasn’t so bad turning thirty, why did everyone make such a big deal out of it? It was just another year, and she still felt young so what was the big to do? Or use any age. There are many ways to show an age without coming right out and saying Carolyn was twenty-five or thirty.

Use Verbs to show Action
Now back to action, let’s look at the word walked again. Our character can amble, race, creep, mosey, shuffle, trot or many other various forms. Each one shows a different mood. If he moseys along, we know he has all the time in the world, compared to if he raced. If he shuffles we may see an old man. The different verbs add characteristic and can even add emotion or tension to a story.

Not only do verbs show action, they set the emotional tone. So next time you’re tempted to write ‘Susan didn’t like the idea she was going to be late- change it to ‘Susan hated the idea of being late. It shows us Susan is usually on time - an important characteristic. And don’t forget the thoughts, these show us the real character and set a tone and mood for them.

In my opionion, there are three main parts of showing a story – action, thoughts, and dialogue.

The above examples using Rose are from my book, Time to Live Again, available at Red Rose Publishing and

Thanks so much for your great posts, Roseanne! I'm sure people will get a lot out of such valuable information.


  1. Very informative post. I have to confess I have trouble with the showing not telling aspect in my first draft.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Margaret. I also have trouble with showing not telling - and not only with my first draft! It often needs another 'eye' to highlight the problem before I recognise it.

  3. There are great tips, and I appreciate the examples too!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Your dad sounds like a sweetie, making things nice and low for your petite mom. Now that's true love!