Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Show Don’t Tell: Skin in the Game...Seekerville Welcomes the Grammar Divas!

Debby here! Please join me in welcoming Grammar Divas Darlene Buchholz and Annie Oortman to Seekerville. Both gals are dear friends and savvy writers who know how to make grammar fun. Really! You may have attended their workshops at various conferences across the U.S. Often they're wearing neon pink construction hardhats and carrying flamingos. Darlene is an ACFW member so look for her in St. Louis this year, and be sure to check out the Grammar Divas website for a list of their online classes. And now, a big round of applause for Darlene and Annie!

“Show, don’t tell.” That adage is framed and sitting on top of your monitor. At conferences you search for yet another workshop on the subject. And, any article with those three words in the headline instantly gets read.

You work on the art of showing because you want readers to love and empathize with your characters. You want readers to be invested in your characters. You crave writing a book that can’t be put down for anything… work, laundry, sleep.

You want readers with a little skin in the game!

Showing and telling are integral parts of story writing. So why does telling get such a bad rap and showing all the glory?

Telling is impersonal because you explain to the reader what’s happening. Telling names feelings and lists fact, often going into too much detail, i.e., lots of description and backstory. Instead of “hearing” the character’s voice, the reader hears yours, “telling” the reader what to think and feel. This puts emotional distance between your reader and your characters.

Telling is flat, passive.

If a friend tells you about a good movie, he may go into a few details, action, and dialog, but only from the examples he thought were important. Not the same as going to the movie yourself, is it?

Showing is personal because you get the reader to invest time and emotion, putting the reader right there with the character, thinking and feeling the things the character does. You do this through crawling inside the mind of your POV character and telling the story as he lives it. The reader “hears” the character’s voice, not yours.

Showing is dynamic, active.

Creating a good book, then, is similar to creating a good movie. Instead of good acting and camera shots, you need strong writing—concrete nouns, active verbs, specific details and imagery, and other staples of a confident writer.

Let’s say you have a character—Lucille. Lucille learns her sister has been killed in a tragic car accident. The sister’s children need a good mother, and Lucille wants to fill that role even before she discovers she’s been named their guardian. Except that dirtbag ex-husband of her sister’s shows up, declaring he has seen the error of his ways and he wants to be a proper father. Right.

So you, as author, want to let the reader know how angry Lucille is over this speed bump in “fixing” life for those children.

Telling: You have her call her best friend and explain her feelings. Lucille rants about the dirtbag and then wails, “Can you believe it—the kids want to see him! Oh, I’m so miserable I could just die.”

No kidding. Tell your reader something she doesn’t know! Reruns of Charlie’s Angels are more exciting than this. Diva up! You’re telling. And you need some action for a scene with this much conflict.

Lucille can have a meltdown. Or Lucille can decide this moment is a line in the sand and take charge of the situation. Which sparks more interest for the reader? You bet. Seeing someone take charge is infinitely more interesting. It’s also uplifting. And the readers want to see it.

Lucille can be miserable—later. Right now she has a problem to solve. Turns out the dirtbag spent two years burying his feelings after the breakup with the sister. He became a contractor in Afghanistan, where he found God. Now he’s coaching basketball at the local junior college so he can get to know his family all over again. And the kids… well, they want their dad.

If Lucille refuses, who’s the bad guy now?

Showing: So you show Lucille meeting with the reformed dirtbag and reluctantly agreeing to a supervised visit at the zoo with the children. Show Lucille admitting he can step up to the plate after one of the children insists on going through that nasty reptile house. Because she wouldn’t get within a hundred feet of it, not even for orphaned children. Or you show one of the kids stranded after Little League practice when Lucille is stuck in traffic during bad weather. She grits her teeth and calls “Dad” for help. Because the truth is, she doesn’t have a clue about parenting 24/7.

The reader is caught in the moment. She cares—she’s invested some “skin” in your story. Mark Twain says it like this: Don’t say the Old Lady screamed… bring her on and let her scream.

So how do you revise your writing to increase what you show?

1. Get Rid of Filters

The easiest way to kick the telling habit is to find filters in your writing. They’re dull phrases of unnecessary realization: He saw, she heard, Sandy realized, Joe notices, Henry thought, she felt, they listened, he looked, she observed, they anticipated, etc. Stopping to think in the middle of action is like stopping to scratch or blow our noses. Not something the reader needs to be a part of.

Telling: She thought of her child as a strong-willed person.

Showing: “Morgan! Get over here right now!” Standing in the middle of the aisle at Target, Linda counted to five—for patience.

Her child screwed up her beautiful, five-year-old face and shouted, “No!”

Would she ever outgrow being so stubborn? Linda grabbed Morgan’s hand and dragged her screaming daughter through the store and out to the car.

Telling: She believed Joe had cheated on her.

Showing: Joe’s shirt smelled of perfume she didn’t use.

2. Say Bye-Bye to Expletives

Expletives are it is/was, it has been, there is/was/were and there has been sentence starters, and they are so-o-o telling because (1) their vagueness makes your eyes bleed. No, wait. Their vagueness hurts your ability to show your story and (2) they put emotional distance between the character and the reader.

Telling: It was true he should marry Lady Cecily.

Showing: Lady Cecily offered the strongest alliance for holding his lands. A wise man would accept the king’s blessing and marry her. Was he, in fact, wise? Did he want to be?

Telling: It seemed Joe had cheated on her.

Showing: Joe’s shirt smelled of perfume she didn’t use.

3. Eliminate Dialog Tags

Dialog tags are the he saids, she saids that identify a speaker and are telling at its worst. If you’ve written dialog well, you need only an occasional reminder to the reader of who is speaking. Don’t try to sneak movement or major information into a dialog tag. Make the movement or information a separate sentence (action beat).

“Hi, Joan,” Helen said, her grocery car coming to rest by a row of fresh produce.

“Hi, yourself,” Joan said, turning to see her old friend.

“What do you plan to do this weekend?” Helen asked, forcing a smile.

“Tom and I are going out on the boat Saturday,” Joan responded in a strained voice.

“Oh, well, if you’re interested, Brad and I are having a cook-out Saturday night about seven,” Helen said with a shrug.

“We’ll see,” Joan laughed nervously. “Thanks.”

The dialog tags are telling and make the whole dialog lifeless. Be careful about –ly adverbs like nervously—they tell, too. The above conversation doesn’t even make clear whose POV we are in!

“Hi, Joan.”

A grocery cart bumped into a display of red and yellow peppers. Joan turned to see an old friend her husband didn’t care for.

“Hi, yourself!” Joan retrieved a pepper rolling on the floor and returned it to the display.

“Have an plans for the weekend?”

“Tom and I are taking the boat out Saturday.”

“Oh, sure.” A shrug. “Well, Brad and I are having friends for a cook-out Saturday night about seven. If you’re interested.”

“We’ll see.” Joan started moving down the aisle. “Thanks.” She couldn’t look back.

This dialog is now dynamic. Dumping all the dialog tags, and the movement they contained, allows this conversation to be lively and full of meaning.

4. Eliminate Passive Voice (as much as possible)

Passive voice (a form of “to be” + past participle… was broken, had been eaten, was explained) is one of the most common ways of telling. Writing in passive voice tells the action, which weakens the conflict you’re illustrating.

Telling: Miranda was told her husband had been seen with a neighbor lady several times.

Showing: Took a minute for Miranda to absorb the truth. Her husband spent a lot of time with the cutie pie down the street. A lot. She put her coffee down and headed for the door. He was toast.

Telling: The crevasse was being skied over by men desperate to avoid the avalanche.

Showing: Desperate to avoid the avalanche, the men skied over the crevasse.

Telling: Brady was tormented by memories of the accident.

Showing: Memories of the accident tormented Brad.

In other words, come on Old Lady. Let’s hear you scream.

FYI… In a March 6, 2011, discussion of “show don’t tell” on the ACFW loop (American Christian Fiction Writers), Michelle Sutton stated that she started to “get it” when she read Stein on Writing. Stein advocates creating an envelope and letting your reader fill it. The Grammar Divas say you can’t “tell” the reader how to think if they’re busy helping the characters fill the envelope.

Sarah Sundin stated, in the same discussion, that she allows herself to “tell” quite a bit in the first draft—“then edit out great gobs of it.” Use a stimulus in the scene to trigger any information, and “then show the POV character’s emotional reaction to the information. When you have to ‘tell,’ stay in the POV character’s voice.” The Grammar Divas say you can’t intrude as author if you stick with that POV character. You can’t start explaining the backstory, the emotions, and all the minutia the reader doesn’t need.

Telling is narrative. Sometimes you need to set the opening of a scene or the passing of time. Sometimes you need to summarize events or description. Telling gives the reader dramatic punch at the end of a scene. Use telling when it serves the story.

Showing allows the reader to participate in the scene. She’ll draw her own conclusions as she experiences the character’s life. Use showing for important conflict, plot points, and character decisions. Remember that not everything has to be shown or you’ll have a manuscript that is too long and gives the reader no rest from action.

Blend a little telling in with the showing of your story. Your readers will have so much skin in the game they won’t put your book down, even if it’s 3 AM.

So, tell us what you think. What helps you remember to show important scenes?

Yours in grammar,

Darlene and Annie

The Grammar Divas are donating a grammar and style critique on the first 15 pages of a manuscript and 5-page synopsis to one lucky Seekerville visitor today. Leave a comment and your email address to be included in the drawing.

Knowing how much Seekers and Seeker friends enjoy good food, gourmet cook Darlene has prepared a Southern brunch, featuring Eggs Benedict, Spinach Quiche, Shrimp and grits (Debby's fav), Ham with sweet potato biscuits, Sausage balls,Maple-glazed bacon, Hash brown bake—similar to Cracker Barrel’s, Vidalia onion tart, Roast asparagus with balsamic glaze, Fried green tomatoes, Crème Brule French toast, Raspberry cheesecake, Sugared berries with cream, Melon slices and Bacon-wrapped grilled pineapple! YUM! Annie's providing her Breakfast Delight—Lucky Charms cereal. Grab a plate and enjoy!

The coffee's hot. Orange juice and mimosas for those who want a little Vitamin C.

About The Grammar Divas...
Going where most grammarians fear to tread, the Grammar Divas—a former English teacher (Darlene Buchholz) and a professional copywriter (Annie Oortman)—have made grammar for the commercial fiction writer simple, easy, and most of all, fun!

Together, the two fiction writers provide practical advice and expert guidance through a variety ways. They’ve taught conference workshops such as “Fat-Free Writing or How to Eliminate Wordiness in the Editing Stage” and “Designed to Sell… How to Enhance Your Writer’s Curb Appeal” at RWA National, NJ’s Put Your Heart In A Book, and GA’s Moonlight & Magnolias as well as at group meetings for River City Romance Writers, Music City Romance Writers, and Gulf Coast RWA. Upcoming live workshops include “Scene of the Crime: Who Killed This Sentence?” for Sacramento Valley Rose RWA and “Using Grammar to Develop and/or Strengthen Your Distinctive Writing Style” for River City Romance Writers.

The Grammar Divas recently returned from Salt Lake City, UT, where they taught their new all-day “Good Writing Comes From Good Editing” seminar for the Heart of the West RWA.
Visit their website——where the Grammar Divas tackle unique issues faced by fiction writers such as passive voice, comma usage, and inactive verbs. They also fight… err… discuss whether to end a sentence in a preposition. (Annie says “no;” Darlene, “yeah.”)
Writers looking for daily grammar tips and funnies can subscribe to their Facebook page at They’re also on Twitter @Grammar_Diva.


  1. Here's a big pot of tea to go with the coffee that's already been provided.

    Hmm. Interesting examples here.

    Helen Lucille

  2. Hi Helen!

    Ah, yes--tea! I can use a good cup of tea shuffling around after midnigiht.

    Thanks for the sweet comment.

  3. Umm, and tea doesn't shuffle around after midnight--I do. I'll use the late hour as my excuse for bad grammar.

  4. Drawn in by the title Grammar my children's stories, I find that most of the book is dialogue with description in the conversation; but then I do have illustrations too.

    The adult articles I write are a bit different and can really appreciate the subtle difference in show don't tell.

  5. Great post! I'm a grammar geek who's not ashamed to admit it. Thanks for a "show-y" post with a wealth of examples illustrating how to show instead of tell.

    I'm chowing down on some spinach quiche. Yummers!

  6. Thanks so much for being in Seekerville, Darlene and Annie! Great post! Your examples were awesome!


  7. Morning, Helen! Thanks for the tea. I'll have a cup later in the morning. Right now, I need coffee!

  8. I'm so excited about the Grammar Divas being with us today! Lots of great info in their blog.

    Ah, tags. I'm guilty. And I often add an action with the tag. Shame on me. I'll try to do better in the future, Darlene and Annie! Promise!

  9. God's timing - always perfect.

    Thanks Grammar Divas... SHOW us those pink flamingoes, ok? :)

    On the topic of grammar - I need help!

    My heroine, May, learns words and their usage. Thus I'm having issues with how to write this. Quotes - my current nemesis.

    For example:
    glares at "Mom", and at me.
    glares at "Mom," and at me.

    They call it a "racket-maker".
    They call it a "racket-maker."

    and for one I really don't know what to do with:

    Just after supper (a turkey sandwich and a green salad "since it's quick."), Dad calls us Schnauzers.

    Thanks for your assistance, Divas! I'm going to check out your blog too! :)

  10. Hi Paula!

    Thanks for stopping by Seekerville! I headed to your website and enjoyed reading about your pups and the reason you started writing your series.

    Be sure to grab breakfast. Darlene's a wonderful cook! Annie's Lucky Charms aren't bad, either. :)

  11. Hi Keli!

    Another grammar guru in Seekerville! My hat's off to you. That would be my green Leprechaun hat, since it's almost St. Patty's Day.

    Darlene and Annie have both helped me dig out of a hole on more than one occasion. I'm always grateful for their wisdom and help.

  12. Waving to Camy on the other side of the U.S. Bet she's sleeping right now. Someone wake her up and tell her breakfast is ready!

  13. Hi KC!

    I'm sure Darlene will be ready to help before long...she's probably still in the kitchen cleaning up after the wonderful buffet she prepared for Seekerville!

    Hugs to May!

  14. I loved this ladies! And huge thank-yous for coming to SEEKERVILLE!

    Oh my stars, you guys rock!

    I do what Sarah does. I write those opening chapters to connect with my characters (don't cringe, VINCE!!!) and then go back and cut out all the extraneous baggage and gobbledy-gook.

    Then I feel empowered to move on with the story because I'm like new BFF's with the characters and...

    the new beginning thrusts me forward.

    And this breakfast spread. Oh mylanta, I'm in heaven.

    Really, if there was a need for food in heaven, this would be it!!!


  15. I understand the "show don't tell" but is there a time to tell? For example, which is better?

    Ice in her veins trembled her hands.
    Trembling hands dropped the keys.

    Thanks for the post. Please enter me in the drawing for the critiques. I need help!

    teaching by writing at yahoo dot com

  16. Hi Christine!

    Get some breakfast and a cup of coffee. Helen brought tea!

    Love the shrimp and grits!

  17. Thank you so much for the great post, Darlene and Annie! The examples are so helpful, and really stress the power of showing not telling.

    I try to use showing as much as possible even while writing the first draft. It's just easier for me to get into the character's head and heart from the get go. However, if it starts slowing me down then I might throw in some telling and come back to the section during edits.

    I've already bookmarked your website and look forward to reading through all your helpful advice.


  18. Another good "keeper" article.

    Showing vs Telling is a definate issue every writer faces whether they are seasoned or just beginning.

    Thanks for the good examples.

    RRossZediker at yahoo dot com

  19. Good morning, Divas!!! I see you are both wearing your tiaras and diamonds.

    I am woefully under dressed, excuse me a moment while I go in search of my appropriate garb.

  20. I'm BAAAACK!!

    This is such a keeper for editing and revising manuscripts. I agree with Rose, we are constantly learning and refining.

    I keep many of the Seeker's (and friend's of Seekerville's) posts on hand when I revise..adding this one to the mix.

  21. grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 8:38 AM

    Hi ladies--

    Sorry to be slow getting back online. Had to get repair peole locked and loaded in the house. I'm playing general contractor in my house today--the ol' money pit has to get a new chimney and we have new wood floors coming today after dealing with water leaks under a concrete slab. It's the yucky stuff.
    More fun here.

  22. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 8:42 AM


    Good to note the differences between children and adult fiction. Kids do require a lot of dialog, but I also bet you use tons of showing as the story world unfolds for young readers.

  23. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 8:43 AM

    Hi Keli-

    Okay--we have it on record that you are a grammar geek. Can't deny it now!

    Spinach quiche..well, yes, a brunch is brunch without it.

  24. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    Thanks Camy--

    It's really fun being here with Seekrville friends.

  25. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 8:47 AM

    Hi Debby--

    Dialog tags get most people! But such an easy fix.

    Thanks for having us blog with you today. You are such a great hostess to get up and take charge here, waiting for me slog through my plumbers and carpenters.

  26. Darlene, welcome to Seekerville! Great post--so helpful. I always have trouble with showing vrs. telling. This makes it much clearer.

    Looking forward to seeing you at ACFW!

    Thanks for the delicious food. Come again.

  27. Good morning, ladies! Is there any skim milk for my Lucky Charms?


  28. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 9:05 AM

    Welcome, K.C.

    Grab a cup of coffee and a plate. Let's talk quote marks. In your examples, you would put the marks outside the end mark.

    "Mom." "racket-maker."

    Note--double check that racket-maker needs a hypen with an up-to-date online dictionary. That may be one word these days (without the hypen).

    Your example contained within parentheses is correct as you wrote it. The parenthetical phrase doesn't change the rule.

    Quote marks go inside the end mark if the end mark is a quesiton mark or when you have to do a quote within a quote, requiring single quotes for the item emphasized :

    "Hey," Mike said, "The little tike finally called me 'Dad'."

    Can you whistle a few bars of "Greensleeves"?

    I like your Schnauzer picture--we have a little dog who's a schnoodle, half schnauzer and half poodle. We adore him!

  29. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    Hi Ruth--

    So glad to be here. If a little southern brunch is all it takes to make you this just have to come on down to Hotlanta more often!

  30. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 9:14 AM

    Hi Christine--

    Yes, there is a time to tell rather than show. Telling is narration and we don't always have to show the little stuff--like trembling hands. That would slow the pace too much and create no releif from action in the story.

    Little things need to be told to serve as transition for the bigger things.

    Telling works best in your example. Plus when writers isolate body parts, the sentence will read as if the body part is detached from the rest of the body. When we read that trembling hands dropped the keys, we wonder if the rest of the body even knew...

    On our website, I have an article entitled "Telling Isn't All Bad." It will go into more detail for you about the uses of telling.

  31. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    Hi Kirsten--

    Yes--exactly. Like Ruth, getting to know those characters takes time on the page for you. That does slow the story down.

    But first drafts are just the beginning--that's what revision is for--to tighten up all those places where you slow down maybe too much. Or for epetition of movement and thought, etc.

    And revision is where you can assess whether you need to show something or whether telling will do. You have to make a judgment based on your writer experience and your characters and their story.

    As I told Christine, on our website, I have that article called "Telling Isn't All Bad." It may add to your information or confirm what you already know.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  32. DARLENE AND ANNIE ... WOW, WHAT A GREAT POST!!! Show and Tell was the very first lesson I learned at my first ACFW Conferenc, but girlfriends, NOTHING opened my eyes like this blog today, seriously!! Uh, which REALLY worries me as I have been doing a lot of these things wrong ... YIKES!! Thanks for the cleanup! :)

    DARLENE ... can't wait to see you again at ACFW, my friend. Anxious to hear how your year has gone ...


  33. Grammar Diva DarlelneMarch 16, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    Thanks Rose!

    Glad you enjoyed the blog.

  34. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    Hi Tina--

    Thanks for such a lovely comment.

  35. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    Hi Cara Lynn--

    Thanks for stopping by with such a sweet comment.

  36. Grammar Diva DarleneMarch 16, 2011 at 9:27 AM

    BTW--Yes, we have milk for the Lucky Charms. No one would expect you to eat them dry!

    Skim milk, 2%, whole milk--whatever you need.

    Also milk and cream for coffee. Or that flavored creamer if you prefer. No southern hostess would leave her guests without such needs being met!

  37. Julie!

    Good to hear from you. I'd bet my shrimp and grits you don't write "wrong." I've read your books.

    And remember, not everything can be told--you'd have a 900 page book!

    I'm looking forward to seeing you again at ACFW too.

  38. Wonderful blog. Even after writing for years, these are good reminders!

  39. Thanks so much for the help Darlene and Annie:)
    This post was soooo what I needed right now! I've been wondering why my dialogue sounds so...lifeless:(
    I think I've had an epiphany! Thanks so much!


  40. Darlene, you locked repairmen up in your house?

    That is such a great idea. If I ever get them back to my house, I'm definitely locking them in until the job is done.

    Great practical non-writing advice.

    What exactly is the penalty for taking a hostage? Trying to decide if I can do the time.

  41. Hey Grammar Diva Darlene -

    Aren't our dawgs da bestest??? :D
    Love 'em!!! Schoodles are wonderful. May sends her BEST sniffs and greetings! (She's a K9 spy and author you know...)

    About your assistance: Quote marks go inside the end mark if the end mark is a question mark or when you have to do a quote within a quote, requiring single quotes for the item emphasized.

    Thanks for the clarification - so should I assume periods and commas go inside and perhaps question marks and exclamation points go outside?

    I might have another, but that is a HUGE help. Thank you - and for the fabulous southern breakfast/brunch. I'm also a southern girl - grew up in Houston, now live in Tennessee, about 4 hours north of y'all in "Hotlanta."

    (Hoping that was a correct usage there!)

    Thanks again for being here today!
    Checked on racket-maker also. In May's story, it's Hans, another Schnauzer, talking about an alarm clock...

    I'm not sure if there even IS such a usage. had "no dictionary results" either way. showed it as two words, one word and with a hyphen.

    I guess it's a word in transition!

  42. Thank you for the great post! Show vs. Tell is such a hard concept for newbies like me, but I think I'm beginning to understand!

    And thank you for the southern Brunch Buffet! I haven't had food this good since we moved west from Kentucky five years ago...mmmm, I love grits...

    Please, please enter me in the drawing!


  43. Mary, creating mayhem again.

    BUT! Look at the BRIGHT side!!! Just THINK of all the writing you could get done, though trying to do a word search on prison walls might be a bit cumbersome...

  44. Hey, Darlene and Annie!! Welcome! And what a great post. I just can't read these things enough. I need to print and re-read before writing each manuscript and then again before revising it.

    I know Janet's probably laughing right now, wanting to say "I told you so." She's always catching me start sentences with "It"! :)

  45. Hi Brenda--

    Thanks for stopping by with kind comments.

  46. Hi Lorna--

    Oh how great you understood dialog a little better! Sometimes we just need to hear the adage one more time before that epiphany.

  47. Hi Mary--

    Good to hear from you. Umm, yes, I've resorted to locking up repairmen. The plumbing project is in its third week.

    As long as you feed 'em, they forget they're hostages.

  48. KC-

    Yes, I know May is a delightful author!

    Racket-maker must be in transition and May gets to spell it whichever way she pleases!

    Yes--quote marks go in front of an exclamation mark--as long as it's quoted material. Otherwise, quote marks go outside an exclamation mark:

    We were surprised when the agent told us, "Your plane has left"!

    "Your plane has left!" the agent said.

  49. Hey, Debby! Thanks for the reminder to stop in Seekerville!

    Oh, I am SO BAD about telling. I'm writing the first draft right now and finding myself telling constantly! When I'm in first draft mode I just want to throw the story onto the page and I mess up constantly when it comes to telling. But hopefully it won't take me years to fix!!! Hoping hoping hoping...

    Knowing you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it, right? I also use passive voice a little too much. Icky passive words! But hopefully I can fix that too.

    Thanks for the good reminders!

  50. Hi Jan,

    Thanks for stopping by. "Show don't tell" is a hard concept to grasp. You have to get deeper in the head of your POV character (a diffficult concept all on its own) and you have to make decisions about when you should show and when you can tell.

    But you're working hard to learn, so you'll get it.

  51. Hi Missy,

    Thanks for coming. Expletives--they are so common in our speaking. When we hear them in our characters' voices, we think they sound "correct."

    Abnd you know, sometimes a dramatic "It was" sentence is exactly what the scene calls for.

    But most of the time, we can change that writing and get stronger.

    Janet will keep you on your toes, for sure!

  52. Missy--

    Sometimes a writer needs to proof her own typing too!

    I meant "And" not "Abnd"

    (I think faster than I type--perhaps a good thing most of the time.)

  53. I loved this post, Darlene and Annie.
    Darlene, I missed you at ACFW this year.

    when I think 'show vs tell' I try and think of it as 'Acting out a scene."
    Showing is action. It's seeing it unfold rather than being told it's unfolding.

    Don't tell me about it. Act it out. Have your characters live it.

  54. Thanks Grammar Diva Darlene - that's exactly what I needed. :)

    May agrees! She has several words she wants to spell her own way. In fact, the next book is bound to have a dog named "Edgrr," don't you think?

    (Ok - see? Doesn't that just look weird? But it looks weird with the comma after the quote too. ugh. I'm definitely printing off this post and the comments so I can keep it straight.)

    Y'all have a great day!

  55. Hello divas!

    Thanks for this great post with wonderful examples to illustrate the points. A keeper for sure.

    I love grammar, too. They just don't teach it like they used to! Sometimes I rearrange a sentence 5 times because it just doesn't sound right. LOL.

    Love to be entered in the draw!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  56. Great articale! I would write more, but I have a class I have to scoot to! Thanks for sharing ladies, Show don't Tell is the bane of my exsistence!

    Or at the very least my worst struggle in fiction...


  57. I thought an expletive was a word you said before your mouth was washed out with soap.

  58. Is your dog a Yankee Schnoodle or a Southern Schnoodle? We were all wondering.

  59. Show of hands... how many people learned how to diagram a sentence?

    Second show of hands... how many still do it to discover why a sentence isn't working?


  60. I think that we would be revealing our age if we raised our hands, so I will decline and Plead the Fifth.

  61. Hi Melanie--

    Messing up is what first drafts are for! Just get the story down--then go back and work to polish the sentence structure and the story structure.

    Give yourself permission to tell in the first draft. Some of that acts as good outlining of points!

  62. Hi Mary--

    Thanks for the comment about the post.

    You give great advice that allows the writer to "see" the story as she writes it.

  63. KC--

    "Edgrr" is cute!

    Our dog is named Bailey--because he's about the color of Bailey's Irish Creme.

    Yes, these dogs are the bestest--very smart and opinionated. But they like to engage people in their little play world.

  64. Hi Susan (or do you go by Susan Anne?)--

    Another grammar lover--thanks for stopping by.

    Agreed--schools are not teaching English as much or as well as they used to. I think we all have to be articulte in our language to be able to think well. So it puzzles me that schools allow students to take language for granted.

  65. Casey--

    Thanks for the nice comment. Good luck with your class!

  66. HI Tina--

    My dog is a Southern boy through and through. He was born in Bay Minette, Alabama. Loves to play ball and fish.

  67. LOL, Tina.

    Expletives in grammar are mild compared to potty mouth.

  68. Wow you guys are on the ball with the comments today!

    Yet another printer outer.

    I struggle with this. Think I'm getting better. At least once I get to the revision process.

    Wonderful examples!

    Thanks ladies!

    Carol [off to do revisions...]

    carol at carolmoncado dot com

  69. Hi Carol,

    Just get your ideas down in that first draft, or second or third draft as well. Revision is where you'll strengthn your ideas and polish characters.

  70. May sez: Alright Bailey!

    Special sniffs and greetings, and please bring the special drink you are named after please... ;D

    KC sez: I'm learning a LOT today - and I'll raise my hand. YES! Diagrammed sentences. Hadn't thought about doing that in a long time. Wow. Great idea!

  71. Hi KC--

    Bailey thanks you!

    Daigramming--yes, my hand is cyber-waving also.

    Annie's our diagram queen. She's the one who remembered how we all had to diagram in school to figure out why our sentences were...well, why they were of poor quality by Miss Higginbotham's standards.

    And hers were the only ones that mattered if you expected to pass her English class.

  72. Printer Outer? Carol! Love it!

    We need a dictionary of terms coined in Seekerville. Printer outer would be there, for sure!

    Or at least, it's the first time I've seen the expression. Perfect!

  73. Back from my morning Bible Study class.

    I knew Seekerville was in good hands with Darlene and Annie!

    Thanks, Divas, for all the great comments and additional info you're providing.

    Our writing is going to sparkle by the end of the day!

    Waving to Melanie! Saw her on FB bright and early and gave her a nudge to visit today. But then, Mel's always here. :) Hugs!

  74. Let me grab another cup of this excellent gourmet coffee and step onto my diagramming soapbox for just a minute...

    A sentence diagram is an x-ray of a sentence. Just like the X-ray taken of my foot to see if I broke it tripping over a rattlesnake on the hiking trail (okay, it turned out to be a stick, but it was a very big stick and it moved... twice... I swear), a sentence diagram helps you see the structure of a sentence.

    If you can't see something's broken, you can't fix it.

    annie (stepping down now)

  75. Divas, would you mind providing some info on when to use a hyphen to join two words that act as an adjective.

    Such as in the short intro I wrote to your wonderful blog. I mentioned "neon pink construction hardhats." Initially, I hyphenated neon-pink. Then I took out the hyphen and separated the two words with a space. Which is correct? And is there a rule to follow?

  76. Annie,
    I loved to diagram when I was in school...back in the Dark Ages, of course. It's been SOOOOOOO long ago that I don't remember where all the clauses and phrases and conjunctions and prepositions go. Can you suggest a reference URL, like a Diagram for Dummies website? Pretty please with Lucky Charms on top?

  77. Diagramming - yes. But not when I was in school (I'm the right age, but I went to a "progressive" school where such things were never taught). I learned when I started teaching Latin to my children - a great way to learn English grammar! But I prefer to "parse" sentences - label the subject, verb, direct object, etc. That really helps identify complete sentences, dependent and independent clauses...

  78. Darlene, we always diagrammed sentences in school! And (gasp) I loved doing it! I always thought of it as working a puzzle. :)

    I don't do it now because I don't remember how. Maybe I should re-learn it to get a grasp on my sentences! Do you know where I could find out (besides asking my kids)? :)

  79. Just realized it was Annie who asked the question! Sorry, Annie. My answer was for you.

  80. Tina, I thought the same thing! I thought maybe I'd had a typo and had accidentally cursed in my comment! LOL

  81. Oh wow! That's a good way to think of it--outlining of points. Thanks, Darlene! I'm going to remember that!

  82. Hi Melanie--

    Yes--telling is summarizing a thought. So if you've used it in your story...well, sometimes it works and you want to leave it that way.

    But in the first draft, telling often becomes a cue to the author to expand something you didn't have time to go into detail about when you were just getting ideas down.

    See? No reason to think you didn't do something "right."

  83. Hi Jan--

    Yes--if parsing sentences works for you, then that is a great diagnostic tool.

    Some people need that "picture" of a diagrammed sentence.

  84. Hi Missy,

    Yes--diagramming is a puzzle. We used colored pencils to designate all the parts of speech.

    There are several good websites with diagramming. One of the most reliable is

  85. This comment has been removed by the author.

  86. Be still, my heart!!!

    Grammar Queen is ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTED to make the acquaintance of two such charming ladies as devoted to proper grammar as moi! We simply must have tea someday soon, girls!

    Lovely advice. Simply, devastatingly lovely.

    And gorgeous tiaras, too!

  87. HI Missy--

    I thought I was the only one who'd messup typing so badly I could possibly say a word I would never want to write!

  88. Thanks for the URL, Darlene. The site looks great!

    Missy, you and I are a lot alike. Perhaps the scientific minds, eh?

  89. EXCELLENT examples of show versus tell!


  90. Hi Grammar Queen!

    Yes, we are devoted to proper grammar! We're delighted our examples proved useful.

    So you like our tiaras? Annie thinks the pink one is a bit much. But I wear that one.

  91. Thanks for the website on diagraming/diagramming!

  92. Grammar Queen,

    So lovely...well, so royal of you to stop by. May I introduce the Grammar Divas? Ms. Queen meet Diva Darlene and Diva Annie!

    I know, I know, you're charmed, I'm sure.

    I'm setting the tea table with crumpets and pastries. Please, enjoy the afternoon sunshine or the shade under the live oak trees. Sip tea and chat about grammar. We--your subjects--will wait until you ladies in tiaras are ready to join us again.

    I wonder if Captain Jack is close by?

  93. This is one of those lessons I can never get enough of, show vs. tell. Good examples. Thanks.

  94. Wow, Divas.
    I've starred, saved, printed, and favorited (I know...not a word) this post. What a practical bit of info on showing/telling!
    Wonderful tips. Now I can make a little checklist :-)

  95. Someone mentioned an epiphany moment. I had an epiphany when I learned about filtering some years ago. Before that, I filtered ALL the time...

    He felt...

    She heard...

    He wondered...

    Those "filters" distanced the reader from my characters.

    Easy to fix, but I had to learn about them first. Thanks for mentioning filters in your blog today.

  96. Pepper, "favorited" will be added to our Saw-It-First-In-Seekerville Dictionary.

    What a great new verb. A favorite, for sure! :)

  97. Hi Cheryl--

    Thanks for stopping by and for the comment!

  98. Debby--

    Your tea is superb. We love all that you've prepared!

  99. Hi Patricia--

    Thanks for the wondeful comment.

  100. HI Pepper--

    Wow! We're thrilled you got some good info here!

  101. Debby--

    Yes, I think everyone uses filters until we find out we're taking the life out of our characters' thoughts! It's as hard a habit to break as those naughty expletives.

  102. Some great, specific examples and reminders in this post! I marked them down for future reference. Thanks, Divas!

  103. Excellent Post Divas! Thanks!

    Will definitely review these tips during the editing phase.

    Eva Maria Hamilton at gmail dot com

  104. Darlene and Annie! Welcome!!! Love having you here!! The post is fantastic. I will print it off, a handy refresher. We all fall into some of this. After all writing that way is easier.

    Darlene, I had no idea you were such an awesome cook! I'll admit that I can relate more to Annie's cereal, but I love a gourmet meal. Thanks!

    Congratulations on your success! You're making a difference in how writers write.

    Hugs, Janet

  105. Missy, I did giggle, but only a little. :-)

    Darlene and Annie, you two are great fun during your workshops. That pink hard hat brings out the wild side of these Divas. :-)


  106. Oh my stars, look at the people here!!!

    Luckily my ovens were fired up for the 'wearin' o' the green' lads and lassies!

    I've got some to die for deluxe sugar cookies here with my homemade buttercream almond frosting.

    They're shaped like shamrocks AND...

    green sprinkles.

    Of course.

    Darlene, you're amazing. And cute.

  107. Hi Janet--

    Yes, the pink hats do things to us! We've been known to play with pink flamingos too.

    Thanks for stopping by and for your comments.

    I don't know--Deb calls it gourmet cooking, but really, I just follow recipes. I love to cook like this, but gourmet if for fsncy chefs on the food network.

  108. Hi Ruth--

    It's a good thing you brought some afternoon snacks. Who doesn't enjoy a shamrock-shaped sugar cookie! And after all, on St. Patrick's Day, we're all Irish.


  109. I diagrammed sentences!

    And I still have no idea why they don't still do it when I read the really shoddy sentences so many kids use.

    And that they don't know a noun from a verb. Or a predicate from an adjective.

    Let me add that RUTHY found a school that diagrammed sentences and all six of her little darlings attended such school.

    They should send me a thank you note, don't you think???

  110. You know, if the the time hadn't changed this week, I would have had a whole extra hour to read through all these comments! lol

    Great examples, Divas. I need all the help I can get.

  111. One more comment. When ds2 was in grammar school, they taught something called....well, I don't remember what it was..., but they diagrammed whole sentences all the time, whereas ds1's (4 years older) class diagrammed subjects one week, verbs the next week, etc.

    Ds2 was a whiz at diagramming sentences because they diagrammed the sentence as a whole.

    Wish I could remember what it was called, but I wish they would have taught it that way for my older son.

  112. Ruth--

    You have bragging rights for finidng a school that still teaches diagramming! I'm impressed.

  113. HI Pam--

    TRhanks for stopping by with a wonderful comment.

    I don't remember what that other method of diagramming was called. But yes, it works better to see the whole sentence--as proven in your older child.

  114. If any of you lovely ladies are interested, Darlene and I have a very simple booklet called "Diagramming Commercial Fiction Sentences for Fun... Yes, Fun" we put together for one of our classes.

    If you'd like a copy, shoot us an email to We'll send it your way.


  115. I would love to diagram sentences again--it's very helpful. Thanks for the links.

    My biggest problem (in writing that is) is WAS. I know how to make "was thinking" into "thought" but I worry I'm using it incorrectly to tell something that happened in the past. Any quick tips? or send me in the right direction please?

  116. Hi Deb--

    I forgot about answering your hypen question!

    Hypen rules are a bit cloudy. That's because words are always changing from being two separate words to hypenated ones to ones that are combined without the hypen. And sometimes, they switch back!

    Today it is equally correct to say--

    Bailey is a short-haired dog, OR
    Bailey is a short haird dog.

    But if the adjectives are not generally thought of as being one thing, we hypenate two adjectives when they precede the noun they modify.

    Neon pink seems like one description to me. So I'd write it without the hypen.

    But "dreamy-tall" would not ordinarily go together. So I'd write:

    He was dreamy-tall--a man right out of a romance novel.

    Editors have preferences, I'm sure. But for your personal writing, you can decide to use the hypen or not according to how closely related you see that description.

    Because of social media, we are dropping a lot of punctuation. As a result, you will find a growing trend to drop a lot of hypens.

    So, I've made this about as clear as mud!

  117. Here's a great article on hyphenation...


  118. Just a reminder... the Grammar Divas offer daily grammar tips and funnies on our Facebook page at

    We're also on Twitter @Grammar_Diva.

    And, please, help yourself to the many articles on our website...


  119. HI Debra--

    Your issue with changing the verb was thinking to thought may come from the fact that was thinking is the progressive tense.

    It's used to state that something is ongoing. So "was thinking" says that somebody started thinking a while ago and was still thinking.

    It's not incorrect to use the "was thinking" verb form. But it should be very, very limited to something incredibly important(as in dramatic point) so the reader understands the time reference.

    Otherwise, keep sentences in the simple past tense. Most of the time, "thought" will serve your purposes.

    Here is an example of needing to use the progressive form:

    While he was thinking about whether he should buy flowers for his wife, he got a phone call from her lawyer.

    See? One action was happening while another one happened.

    You should not have many sentences with -ing verbs in general. They get sing-songy and boring:

    He was laughing.
    He was running.
    He was thinking.

    Yadda, yadda, yadda.

    Most of the time simple past serves our needs to show or tell what the action is.

    Does this help?

  120. Awesome post!!!!

    martzbookz (@) sbcglobal (dot) net

  121. Thanks, Divas, for giving away the diagramming booklet. Everyone email the Divas, c/o Annie, to get a copy!The addy:

  122. Now I understand least, I think I do.

    Thank you!

    Really, you've cleared up some questions I've been having about double adjectives.

    Also learned something...well, actually a lot! But I enjoyed reading about the progressive tense using was. Again, I'll check my WIP and try to limit its use.

  123. DAAAARLEEENE, HI there, What a great post and what fun to hear from you. I can just picture you with that pink hard hat. smile

    And welcome to your diva partner, Annie

    What a great post and how much I would have loved that post ten years ago. whew. Super information divas.

    Thanks for the brunch. I'm a little late, but a snack at this time of the afternoon is always appreciated.

    Thanks for joining us. Say hi to Debby for me. HUGS

  124. Ruthy, the shamrock sugar cookies are yummy!!!

    Hope you have enough left for tomorrow. :)

  125. Thanks for this very imformative post, Grammar Divas! It's another "keeper post" for me (so many great examples--and sadly I saw so many telling ones that I'm "guilty of"). But I'm learning--and especially from posts like this one! Thank you again (waving at sweet Darlene, who I had the pleasure of meeting at my first ACFW conference in MN!). Blessings from Georgia, Patti Jo :)

  126. Hi Martha--

    Thanks so much for your remarks.

  127. Debby--

    Thanks for your sweet comments about progressive tense and those squirrely hypens.

  128. Hi Patti Jo,

    We all are seeing our mistakes today, Patti Jo! Darlene's helped us so much. Annie, too!

    I'm so glad they blogged with us today.


  129. Hi Sandra--

    Oh, I am so glad to hear from you! Thanks for your precious post.

    Okay--you missed brunch, But have dinner with me. I made way too much. I gave up meat for Wednesdays as well as Fridays for Lent. So I made too much dinner. Tried a new recipe--Fettucine with asparagus, roasted hazelnuts, garlic and exotic mushrooms with a cream and wine sauce.

    It's fabulous. Can't exactly say I'm sacrificing tonight with this meal. Join us, dear.

  130. Hi Patti Jo!

    Oh my goodness. Patti Jo, you are so sweet. Thank you for your remarks. You were the most gentle person in MN at ACFW. I do not see you enough!

    I've seen that your daughter got married!

  131. Divas! Thanks for these wonderful tips and examples. I love the befores and afters because it makes me realize it's possible to fix the bad stuff. Thank goodness.

    Also, your tag line ("Friends don't let friends use bad grammar") is the cutest.

  132. Thank you Grammar Divas!

    I can't get enough. I'd love a dose each day and I'll use the new verb 'facebook' to keep in touch.

    thanks for the diagramming links. Boy, talk about a geeky bunch! Who else gets so excited over such things?

  133. Hi Anne--

    Thank you for such a sweet comment---especially at the end of the day.

  134. Hi Debra--

    You ar esuch a grammar geek! Too cute--a dose of grammar every day.

    Yes--stay in touch. FB is our happenin' place!

  135. I so wish I could have been there when you wre at GRW in January,


  136. Walt!

    So good to hear from you. We missed you at GRW! But stay in touch.

  137. Walt,
    Anything new about your wife's family? We're all praying for the situation in Japan.

  138. Debby, the family is fine. Thanks for asking. However, it's hard to fathom what the people in the affected areas are going through.

  139. Am I out of the running yet? I can't believe I just saw this post! I need the critique in a big way. :P My first five pages critique was a lot of 'telling, not showing' so I've tried hard to fic it. Would be great to see if any of it sunk in- or if I'm right where I started... from? (hahaha!)

  140. Ohhh, I see the time on my says 2:35 AM when it's only 11:35 here. *sniff* *sigh* *double sigh*

  141. As a screenwriter SHOW don't TELL is a biggie. It's nice to see the same encouragement in this fine post, about novels. when I read a novel that SHOWS, I think about how it is visual, and how I am THERE with the event or action. But when it comes to SHOWING Miranda realizing her husband was with a neighbor lady, it seems she needs to SEE him with the cutie.

  142. Hi Virginia--

    Thanks for the comments. We think with the enthusiasm you show you'll find a way to get the telling out of your WIP.

    Check our website as well. We have additional info on showing/telling.

  143. Hi Stan--

    Thanks for your great remarks! We agree--novels should be visual in much the same way movies are.

    And you are correct, Miranda must see her husband with the cutie pie. We kept the illustration short for this blog and only showed her introspection.

    But in my mind's eye, Miranda is on her way to the cutie's house, where truth and hubby will both be found.

  144. Good morning Debbie, Darlene and Annie! Thanks so much, ladies, for an awesome posting on "Show Don't Tell". I LOVE it! As I was reading your advice, I was correcting, too. I have liked your facebook page and saved your website. I look forward to "seeing" more of the two of you.

    Please add me in the critique give-a-way.

    Heading off to get my coffee now...

    mzshawnaj at gmail dot com

  145. I loved it, Divas! I'm a college writing instructor, so my picture of grammar has had to undergo drastic renovation in attempting to write marketable novels.

    You guessed it, I was thinkin' literary fiction. Yep. But about 2 weeks ago, something clicked and I've been ripping through a manuscript ever since, and By Jove, I think ??? I've got it! But I would love to have a professional opinion, so here's my e-mail address.

    Thanks again,

    Gail Kittleson

  146. Hi Shawna--

    Thanks for the comments and for adding our website to your list!

  147. Hi Gail--

    Thanks for your comments.

    I was indeed humbled to learn all those things I'd taught about literary fiction in school were nice, but...for commercial fiction, I'd need to "get real." And you know--I prefer the honesty in commercial fiction.

  148. Thanks so much, Darlene and Annie, for being with us in Seekerville. You've given us wonderful information that will be put to good use as we work on our current manuscripts!

    Come back often, please!!!

    Hugs and love to both of you!

  149. This is the best description of showing versus telling that I've read. The examples really help push the message through. Thank you.

  150. You're welcome, Jenise!

    And thank you for your comments.

  151. Well now. I just found my choice for my Friday blog pick of the week. This is fabulous ladies. I can never get enough help with grammar and the show don't tell thing still sneeks up on me now and then. Thank you Grammar Diva Darlene. Love the website! Hope to see you at ACFW this year!

  152. WoW! Thanks, Jill!

    Good to hear from you. Yes, I expect to be at ACFW this year and I look forward to visiting with you.