Show don’t tell when writing story dialogue

All too often, new writers fall into the error of telling instead of showing. This occurs, for example, when the narrator states how character feels rather than using concrete details from which the feeling can be inferred. So instead of saying, Suzanne was feeling naughty infer it by writing Suzanne ran finger along his arm.

When writing dialogue, writers also can fall in the trap of telling instead of showing, For example, instead of writing “I’m feeling tired, Alvaro,” Suzanna said instead write Suzanne yawned. “Let’s go to bed, Alvaro.”

Among the problems of a character telling what he feels is that it doesn’t sound realistic. Many characters, as with people in real life, often to know exactly what they’re feeling but have only a vague sense of it.

But people often do express what they feel. Because of that, body language is the perfect way to convey their emotional state.

Sometimes new writers will claim that their reader won’t get what they’re saying and so need to be told what to think about the character. That viewpoint not only underestimates the reader but actually takes the fun out of reading. It’s akin to handing a puzzle lover a new 1000-piece set and then putting it all together for them.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.