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Show Vs. Tell in Dialogue
Contributor
Written by
Maria Murnane
October 2018
Contributor
Written by
Maria Murnane
October 2018

One area where the issue of of “show vs. tell” frequently pops up is when authors use too many adverbs or adjectives to tell readers how a character is feeling instead of using beats to show readers how a characters is feeling. 

(Refresher: A beat is a physical action.) 

Here are some examples of beats vs. adverbs/adjectives in dialogue. You’re the reader here-- which ones paint a better picture in your head?

ADVERB: “Do we really have to go in there?” Ben asked nervously.

BEAT: Tiny beads of sweat broke out on Ben’s forehead. “Do we really have to go in there?” he asked.

 

ADJECTIVE: “You can’t be serious,” Gloria said, incredulous.

BEAT: Gloria’s eyes widened. “You can’t be serious.”

 

ADVERB: “It looks like we got here too late,” Mitch said glumly.

BEAT: Mitch’s face fell. “It looks like we got here too late,” he said.

 

ADJECTIVE: “I’m pleased to hear you two finally came to an agreement,” Lisa said, distracted. 

BEAT: Lisa shuffled through the stack of papers on her desk, not looking up. “I’m pleased to hear you two finally came to an agreement.”

 

ADVERB: “We could ask Lisa to fill in while the receptionist is on vacation!” Kelly said optimistically.

BEAT: Kelly snapped her fingers and pointed to Lisa’s desk. “We could ask Lisa to fill in while the receptionist is on vacation!”

 

Do you see the difference? Beats aren’t necessary all the time, but peppering your story with them helps bring your characters to life. And if there’s one adjective you want your characters to be, it’s alive!

-Maria

 

Maria Murnane writes bestselling novels about life, love and friendship. Have questions? You can find her at www.mariamurnane.com.

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