Authors are so fond of saying this that it’s become a cliché, but it’s valid advice just the same. Consider the two passages below, adapted from my current work in progress. The first one ‘tells’ and the second ‘shows’. Sometimes ‘telling’ is more appropriate – and remember, variety is important too. But often you’ll find that ‘showing’ will make your writing more powerful.
Here's the first version:
Meggy knew Mrs Scott didn’t like her, though her sister Jean said Mrs Scott was just annoyed because Meggy had turned down the job offer. Meggy didn’t care.
They heard voices, and Henrietta’s stooped figure appeared in the doorway. Mrs Scott hovered behind her.
‘Meggy,’ Henrietta said, clearly delighted to see her daughter.
‘Ma.’ Meggy said warmly, rising to greet her mother. ‘Good day to you, Mrs Scott,’ she added.
Mrs Scott said, ‘The Lovies are feeding you well.’
‘They look after me,’ Meggy said, embarrassed.
And here's the revised version:
‘Mrs Scott’s a mean old thing. She doesn’t like me.’
‘She thinks you’re a fool for turning down Scott’s offer—that’s all.’
‘Phht.’ Meggy raised her chin. ‘What would she know.’
Jean sipped silently.
They heard voices, and Henrietta’s stooped figure appeared in the doorway. Behind her, the shadow of Mrs Scott hovered. Henrietta's eyes creased into smiles when they lit upon her younger daughter. ‘Meggy!’
‘Ma.’ Meggy rose and kissed her mother. ‘Good day to you, Mrs Scott,’ she said over her shoulder as she grasped Henrietta's arm and steered her towards the fire.
Mrs Scott nodded, looking Meggy up and down. ‘The Lovies are feeding you well.’
Meggy coloured. ‘They look after me.’
About this blog
Through my experience as an editor, a reader and a book reviewer, I’ve noticed that some writing faults keep just popping up again and again. As an author, I’m especially aware of those writing crimes that I’m frequently tempted to commit myself. This series of brief tips addresses the common writing problems that I’ve encountered. Following them will help make your writing clear, accurate and stylish.