“He says/She says” and the Show-don’t-tell Dilemma

Author Christine Nolfi

If you are a struggling Indie author, investing your time wisely by joining a critique group of two, you have become familiar with and even haunted by the “show don’t tell” boogie man. Some have attempted to address this by changing he said and she said to he murmured or she yelled. That just doesn’t cut the mustard.

The best way to grasp the concept is to read a passage by someone who has perfected the art. I would suggest reading anything by Christine Nolfi. ( http://www.christinenolfi.com/ ) It is a wonderful place to start.

An example will do more to help you than any critical comments employing the show don’t tell phraseology.  Here is a sensational one:

*Mary surveyed the patriotic decorations festooned throughout the dining room, a treasure trove of Americana harking back to the restaurant’s inception during the Civil War. So many beautiful things, but they’d gone unappreciated. Diners noticed little but the glop on their plates.

Her heart sank. “There won’t be a dinner rush. After the meals Ethel Lynn made for the breakfast and lunch crowds, we won’t see a soul.”

Delia approached the picture window. “I hope the town council doesn’t burn up the phone lines scaring off our customers.” She squinted at the courthouse anchoring the north end of Liberty Square. “Then again, they have a soft spot for Miss Meg. It might stop them from passing legislation condemning this place.”

“Maybe I should ask my aunt to fire off an email.” Would long distance lobbying work?

“You should—Meg can fix anything.” The mirth on Delia’s face died as she added, “We were all sorry to see her go.”

Reprinted with permission of the author.*

I should explain that I resent the journalistic habit of referring to people by their surnames. “Reis says she can’t remember when she wasn’t editing even as far back as public school.” Blech. It is disrespectful and I won’t do it.

Christine has mastered the art of showing, and doing it vividly. No awkward “stage directions” to break up the flow of the action. You can clearly envision this scene with little description of the room or its contents and you know precisely who is speaking.  There isn’t a “she said” to be found.

In fact, I don’t know if I encountered a he said or she said anywhere in the entire manuscript.

If you are writing this well your editor will love you, you will save a bundle on editing services, get great reviews, and higher sales.

It will appear daunting if you are at the stage of being almost ready to send your work to your editor but go back through it one more time. I think when you begin doing this you will be energized and excited. You have a new toy. Writing is fun again.

SECOND CHANCE GRILL Copyright 2012 by Christine Nolfi.

All rights reserved.

Created in digital format in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

ISBN: 1478342226    ISBN 13: 978-1478342229

*(“Wendy–I’m honored you think my work good enough to use in a blog post. Of course, please use it!                                                                                Whenever I work in critique groups or receive private mail from frustrated writers I try to explain that today’s literature is very much a visual medium. Writers must create an image in the reader’s mind, much like a movie unfolding as each page is turned.              “Dialogue tags must never take the place of dialogue, which is the true action in a plot. Show the character yelling through facial expression, physical movement, etc. Use deep POV (Point of View) between sentences of dialogue. Or describe the character’s view of the setting through emotion–a glaring sun if the character feels sad, a bright, crisp day if the character feels happy. And if you’re at risk of succumbing to the urge to use an adverb in a dialogue tag, ask yourself, “Does the dialogue carry enough emotion?” If it doesn’t, revise.                                                                                   Thank you–truly–for thinking of my fiction while writing the post. XO Christine”)

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