Following the first answer for this question What does Show don't Tell actually mean I followed to the Chuck Palahniuk exercise and tried applying it to my current work.

From this point forward – at least for the next half year – you may not use “thought” verbs. These include: Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred others you love to use.

My problem quickly became that because I am in first person, showing what a character thinks is weaker than saying what he thinks because we instantly loose the lens of the narrator.

Here is an example.

"What do you go by in this city?” I ask. My voice surprises me. I realize it has been a long time since I heard it, longer still without the rasp.
“Jack…” He says more than that but it is irrelevant, “What are you doing here?”
“You told me once that if I come to New York, you would present me before the Shepherds”
“You haven't killed anyone have you?
“No, I have just arrived in the city.”
“Good, good, I am happy you came straight to me…” Jack talks too much. He thinks every word is lonely and needs a dozen more to lead it into the battle of conversation. “You are very lucky. There is a meeting later tonight. Another will be added to the club. You will come and I will present you. All we need is to find something you can wear in public”

So here i am telling the reader how Jack thinks because I am trying to show that the narrator hates people that talk to much. Having Jack talk too much to the point of showing boredom would just bore the reader. Showing the narrator be irritated also seems less fun and I like how this punches up the reading.

I find similar situations any time I hit those words.

Does this have something to do with my point of view, or am I misunderstanding Palahniuk's suggestion?

[EDIT] I explained the quote due to the large amount of confusion on the speaker and the narrator. The last paragraph is still what's important to the question

  • 1
    Hi Andrey, When i go through for those thought words, I realize some can be effectively changed, and others become bulky. (I'm in 3rd though). I don't quantify it though. But, some are wrong to change. Did you spot any in yours that can be changed, did you change them, and do you feel better about it? It's going to ultimately be down to your instincts, and these exercises I think get you 'trained up' to where you start to find your own balance.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 15:14
  • It is a bit unclear from your text if both your character and the person he's thinking about/referring to is called Jack. Who's jack in this scenario? - Who says 'Jack talks too much'?
    – storbror
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 15:24
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    @storbror Jack is talking to the narrator. The narrator makes a comment to the reader describing Jack rather than continue quoting him in the text
    – Andrey
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 15:27
  • Then my answer below is based on a misinterpretation of your text example. Well, It would be easier to write if Jack was your narrator and he thought other people talked too much - this doesn't seem like first-person to me, but I'm gonna edit my answer. The "Here I'm showing how Jack thinks" is the confusing part.
    – storbror
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 15:32

5 Answers 5


I think you are still TELLING and not showing. I think you must have intended a paragraph break before "Jack talks too much," if that is supposed to be a thought of the narrator. With that assumption, thinking "Jack talks too much" is not showing us the consequences or ramifications in the narrator when somebody talks too much.

What are those ramifications? What is the feeling? What does this make the narrator want to do? What urge does he resist while he waits for Jack to get to the god damn point?

You have told us what the narrator thinks, but not shown us anything, you are going to 'cheat' and rely upon our imagination of what the narrator feels. You want us to fill in those blanks, when it is your job as the author to guide our imagination, not hope we figure it out, or hope we will have exactly the same feelings as you do that give rise to that thought. Because we won't, I would not mind at all if Jack starts his conversation with me that way, so I don't automatically relate to this thought of the narrator that "Jack talks too much". The metaphor following that is not bad, but if you are going to write first person, lead with feelings that give rise to thoughts. THEN you will find that sometimes the feeling is all you needed, it was sufficient to convey the irritation or resignation or impatience or whatever it is the narrator is feeling.

  • I know this is tangential, it may just be out of context here, but in my writing the text after the quote is a camera focus. It's interesting that it's unclear
    – Andrey
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 16:49
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    Is it a screenplay? I see no camera direction, and how does the camera "focus" on thoughts? If this is a novel, I'd expect thoughts in italics and attributed, e.g. Jack talks too much, I thought. He thinks every word... and even then, a new paragraph. Even in first person. Please provide a link for the term "camera focus" applied to novel writing, if it is a screenplay you need "TIGHT ON" or something similar, and camera directions only apply to something physically visible, not thought. If this is recommended practice, I do not recall seeing it in any novel I have read.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 19:13
  • I agree with Amadeus comment above, and with her answer in general. I would like to say, though @Andrey, if you have to explain that it's meant to be something (and then explain further what that something is), then that section itself might very well be the issue.
    – user18397
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 12:34

If "Jack talks too much" is what your character thinks (and he's not referring to himself in the third person?), then I'd say you are showing. You are showing your character's thoughts without telling us how to interpret or understand them.

You didn't say "I don't like when people talk a lot" or "People who talk a lot annoy me" - which would give us an 'obvious' understanding of what Jack thinks unless you were actually trying to slowly show how Jack's understanding of himself is, well... off somehow.

Maybe you're barely showing, though, and could use a more "reaction-like thought" kind of like: "Please stop talking, please stop talking.", but I personally don't think it's necessary.

EDITED/Additional answer.

First, I don't think your story is in first-person if Jack is the main character and not the narrator - BUT; you may show that "Jack talks too much" in a different way.

Second: If "Jack talks too much", then someone must think so. Thus, the right thing to do (in my opinion) is to have someone else show that he talks too much.

Example: "Jack went on for another 5 minutes about how he appreciated that Alex had come straight to him, mentioning his previous experiences with other people, and how it hurt when they went behind his back" - Alex had raised his hand and opened his mouth a couple of times during Jack's speech, but now stood with a distant look in his eyes, facing the door..."

Now, I have no idea what other characters are in your story and what their relations are to Jack, but this is simply an attempt to show that "Jack talks too much" through the characters around him.

  • 1
    Agreed that this doesn't appear to be in first-person. In context of the excerpt as well, the whole sentence being struggled with appears superfluous.
    – user18397
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 12:36

Amadeus has given an excellent answer to your conundrum and the article by Palahniuk is excellent. I just wanted to add one little point from experience that I hope will spur you on (can't comment as too new to this branch of StackExchange).

I sympathise, because scenes like this are difficult to show and not tell. You are right that showing Jack talking too much has the potential to bore the reader, but you could lengthen the scene, or draw these character traits across a few scenes, making sure that the information Jack is imparting is relevant and interesting to the story (even though he uses too many words to get there). Do you need to blurt out right at the outset that Jack talks too much and the narrator doesn't like it? Or could you draw those character traits out over a longer time? Showing just a bit here and a bit there as the scene/s moves forward, having the reader see the narrator getting gradually more and more frustrated, until he breaks and maybe even blurts, 'You talk too much, do you know that?' rather than trying to pack that information into a few brief lines?

What you've set up has the potential to be really interesting in terms of creating two characters who 'gad' each other, and you could really play on how much they irritate each other as the scenes move on (if they are going to spend time together).

Chuck's advice to 'unpack' rather than pack, is bang on. In his examples, he takes a lot more time and words to convey the same information through showing instead of telling, but that vital unpacking is what makes a scene feel real and three-dimensional, and the characters feel three-dimensional too.

It feels like a lot of work upfront, and I often find myself resisting the urge to unpack, because it does take so much time and effort. But, in the long run, it will actually save you time, because:

When you don't unpack and delve deeply in the way Chuck describes, you create scenes that feel sparse and two-dimensional. And that has a compounding effect on the whole novel. The reader (the agent or publisher) who loved your idea, who loved your pitch, your concept and your story, gets to the end and thinks, 'Nah, I didn't really buy it.' And they may not be able to put their finger on why they didn't buy it, but somehow the whole story didn't quite feel real.

You then have to rewrite, unpacking it all anyway. It really is worth the time and energy it takes to do it out of the gate. So, don't rush. Go slowly, live each second of your story, unpack and explore your moments and your characters.

HTH, Good luck!


Hmm. This depends on your writing style. It could be useful as an exercise to not use those words, but it could also be done without having to 'tell' this is what your PoV character is thinking.

Examples. (too accustomed to writing 3rd person past, forgive me, but this applies all the same to whatever PoV and tense)

She stood there, opposite the man she was told would help her. His lips were moving, but no sound seemed to breach the haze she found herself in. Over and over, the scene kept playing out in her mind. Formless silhouettes of nightmares playing out even in her lucid state. A weight landed on her shoulder.

All she could do was scream. A blood curdling screech erupted from her as she curled up into a ball and covered her ears, unwilling to face that again.

They'd come for her. It was the only explanation!

If that doesn't do it for you, you could try a character with some sass and a major bad attitude.

Another was walking up to him. Another! He'd lost track of how many this was, not that he planned on counting from the start.

"Hi, I'm," he blocked out her name on instinct, "and I'm totally your biggest fan! Can I have your autograph?" He formed the chewing gum between his teeth and lips, blowing a bubble. Hmm, maybe picking up that pack of bubblelicious was a good idea after all? Licking the rubbery and tasteless pastime off his lips, he could only shrug.

"Yeah, sure. Whatever," he mumbled, taking her pen and pink unicorn notepad, and wrote the first thing that came to mind.

To my biggest fan ever. You know I'll always love you, baby.

Too over the top? Given she was squealing and babbling on about whoever would be 'totally jealous'? No. Not a chance. She'd be in the front row of every movie he ever starred in from now on.

Remember, no sighing.

Following your rules of leaving those words out. But you can clearly see what's going on in his head. It all depends on how well you get in your PoV character's head. Then no matter the arbitrary rules you play by, you can bring a character to life. Just keep working on it, and keep reading. You never know what you might come up with.


This should be a comment

Learn about the difference between telling and interiority.

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    Perhaps you could flesh out your answer a bit more. The link could go bad, after all, and the point (I think) you want to make about interiority is a good one. Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 13:46

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