Show not tell: dialogue

I like writing dialogue and while people tend to say that dialogue is one of my strengths, I can also be guilty of ‘telling’ my story through dialogue. My wonderful Beta Reader, Marion (who runs Making Manuscripts and is available for hire), picked up that one thing I sometimes do is let my dialogue do all the talking, when I should include action/reaction in the scene. See these two versions below, with Marion’s comments and see if this is something you can be guilty of sometimes, too.

Cover design by Wendy Johnston of Bright Eyed Owl.
Cover design by Wendy Johnston of Bright Eyed Owl.

Scene 1: (and the ‘chunk’ he refers to is a chunk of hair, for your context). The comments in bold are Marion’s.

Owen moved closer, trapping Liv between his big body and the Hyundai’s back wheel. “This damn chunk falls across your eye all the time. I can’t look at it without wanting to do…this.” He picked it up, tucked it behind her ear, and turned her insides into butterfly jelly.

“We’re going out tonight.” Owen scorched a kiss across her temple, so that it felt like a circle of flame branded her skin. “I’ll see you at your place about seven.”

“Where are we going?” I was expecting a ‘she breathed’

“It’s a surprise.”

She could feel pink flushing up her throat. “Do I need riding leathers?”

“Wear them if you want, but we’re not going riding tonight.” His mouth feathered from her temple, down her jaw, each breath hot with promise.

Liv shivered. “I never really liked surprises.”

“You’ll love this one.” I haven’t read the next bit to this yet, but what is happening for Liv at this point? What is her response to his proclamation of a surprise? I don’t know if it really matters, but you want to avoid letting the dialogue do all the talking if that makes sense. 

Yes it made sense, once it was drummed into my thick skull a few times!

Revised scene: 

Owen moved closer and Liv lost sight of his aunt’s retreating back and the camellia trees flanking the front steps. She couldn’t see anything but the solid wall of his chest and the mesmerising rise of his hand as he lifted it toward her face. “How can I think about transfer papers when this damn chunk of hair falls across your eye like that? How can I look at it without wanting to do…this.”

He tucked the stray hairs behind her ear. Roughened fingertips skimmed her earlobe, caressed the skin of her neck, and Liv felt all the breath squeeze from her lungs. Could Owen feel her pulse? Surely he could hear it?

“How should we celebrate all our hard work, Liv?”

“I don’t care,” she said. And she didn’t. Anywhere with him was fine.

“Should I surprise you?”

Liv had three pairs of jeans in her wardrobe, including the pair she now wore. She hoped he wasn’t thinking of anywhere too ritzy. “I never really liked surprises.”

Owen’s eyebrows arched. “You’ll ride the flying fox in the school playground but you don’t like surprises?”

“At least give me a clue about what to wear. I can hardly drag out the party heels if we’re riding the bike again.” That’s if I owned party heels.

“You’d look good in anything,” Owen said, banishing all thought of footwear from her brain as his mouth brushed her temple. “You’d look incredible in nothing.”

The husky promise in his voice—his hot breath on her skin—it turned her knees to jelly.

Owen breathed her scent, his nose in her hair. He nibbled a path around her ear. A shudder racked her body and she surrendered to the delicious things he was doing with his lips. Liv closed her eyes, slid her hands up his bare arms, great arms, shaping the muscles she felt there, loving the underlying strength.

It took a raucous whistle from the house to break through Liv’s trance.

“Bloody Mark,” Owen muttered against her jaw, lifting his head.

She took the chance to sidle sideways and hook her fingers under the door handle, her face flushed from a hot mix of embarrassment and desire. Owen held the door for her while she settled behind the wheel, glad to be sitting so he wouldn’t see her legs shake.

“Drag out the party heels if you like, Lovely. We’re not going riding tonight,” he said, big fingers splayed loosely against the window. “Tonight I want to end up somewhere with you that’s much more comfortable than the back of a bike.”

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