Show Don’t Tell

NANOWRIMO 012For me, line editing is the longest part of the editing process.

Like many writers, I have an inner editor who wants every word, phrase and sentence to be perfect. Who doesn’t want their work to be the best it can be?

And so, as a human being, I have invented some wonderful ways of procrastination.

But they’re not as time-wasting as they are in prior stages. Once I’ve reached the line edit, in theory I’ve fixed most problems – pretty much everything except which words I use.

I’ve currently stopped the line edits again; however – this is something I’ve learned during the process.


I open up Word, and I press two buttons on my keyboard.

Ctrl + F

Usually, I do a search for “the” and “teh”, and for “form” and “from”.

Having had a slight epiphany a couple of weeks ago, this time, I write in a new word.


It’s taken nearly four years to really get my head around “show, don’t tell”, and this time, something’s clicked. I finally get it.

Look at this sentence:

“He knew it was pointless to feign ignorance with her. His magic was powerful, but he knew her strength as an enchanter.” 


What about now?

“It was pointless to feign ignorance with her. His magic was powerful, but her skill as an enchanter was stronger.”

It’s a simple change – four words missing, two added. One changed. A difference of two words.

But I’m no longer telling the reader about his relationship. HE is telling the reader about the relationship, and his thoughts about her powers. I may still edit this phrase, but that’s why I’m doing a line edit. The point of view is now stable. I’ve pulled it out of my head, and put it in his.

And that, in a nutshell, is “show, don’t tell”.

I don’t remove every instance. “How she knew about that, he wasn’t sure” is fine. “How did she know about that?” may work better, depending on your story and your voice. But for the point of view character, nothing should be them knowing. They should be transmitting their thoughts to the reader’s mind, directly.

And it’s in the rounds of editing I begin to really double-check that every thought it the characters – not mine.

The lesson is simple, but difficult to implement:

Stop telling me about the characters – let them tell me about their world instead. 

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