Hey everyone, and thanks again for being so appreciative of my last editing checklist post. Today, to follow up the posts on structure and point of view, I bring you my checklist for showing instead of telling.
The Over-do-er’s Editing Checklist: Showing Instead Of Telling
1. Describe things using different senses, rather than just sight. Smell, in particular, can really bring a scene to life.
2. Check for overuse of adjectives in your dialogue tags and replace them with an action – aka a beat – which still tells the reader who’s speaking and builds the emotion without spelling it out.
3. Make sure your beats are original, and try and build a character’s personality rather than just their mood at the time. e.g. A character biting their nails will show they’re anxious, but it’s a cliché. What other nervous traits would build that character? i.e. If they’re a writer, their nervous tick could be to compulsively tap their pen against their desk.
4. Watch out for information reveals that are too obvious – such as a scene which only happens to deliver a certain message – and weave the information in instead. (The characters should discover things naturally, through actions they would genuinely take. If that means you’re going to have to change the plot a little, a good place to start is scenes which are lagging already).
5. Repeat point 4, specifically ensuring that characters aren’t saying OR THINKING things just to give information to the reader.
6. If you must convey a piece of information through dialogue or thoughts, make sure you’re at least showing something, by using words which build character or voice.
7. Check for explaining words in both narration and dialogue. E.g. because, so and since.
8. Replace ‘ly’ words with action. Eg ‘she walked angrily’ becomes ‘she stormed.’ A mini-checklist: Actually, totally, absolutely, completely, continually, constantly, continuously, literally, really, unfortunately, ironically, incredibly, hopefully, finally.
9. ‘Seemed to’, ‘tried to’, ‘started to’, ‘about to’, ‘something started’, ‘fought the urge to’ and ‘immediately’ can be replaced with the actual action.
10. Showing is vital, but also ensure that your more detailed descriptions NEED to be so thorough. (This is especially true for new writers who envisioned their world first, and therefore have those few descriptive paragraphs they’ve loved from the word go).
11. If you have over-described something, read examples such as the Diagon Alley scene in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and observe the way that descriptions are often placed ‘on the way to something else’, so that the sentence maintains the action while letting the reader experience the world as they go along. Emulating this technique is particularly useful for world-building.
12. Check for other situations where showing may not be necessary. e.g. it’s dull, irrelevant, or would be much simpler as a tell.
13. Have I missed something? Let me know!