Writerly Wednesdays

Show and Tell in Your Novel

In our novels, we share forbidden secrets and mists of the heart. How?

My best friend from high school, Brandon, lived five miles from my house. He was considered a bit of a loose cannon, and his exploits are legendary in my family. His car, The Blue Beast, was as famous as he is. When he opened his car door (the lock didn’t need a key) and turned the ignition (which also didn’t need a key), we could hear the engine roar from our house.

One night, I hosted a sleepover, and as young men are wont to do, we craved food at 2:00 AM. Brandon and my brother decided a sub sandwich was the answer. They snuck downstairs, past my parents’ bedroom, and out the front door.

In my room, I waited to feel the rumble of Brandon’s car engine through the house. The earthquake never came. Hmmm. I walked to the window and looked out the blind. On the street below, Brandon and my brother had slipped the car into neutral and pushed it down the street. Indeed. Two teens are walking a vehicle down the primary street of Alder in Walla Walla, Washington, at 2:00 AM. I quickly closed the blind. I didn’t want to watch. After a moment, in the distance, the murmur of the car starting was barely audible.

An hour and a half later, they returned. The sub place was closed. Rather than a sandwich for each of us, they returned with a large stick of pepperoni and a massive block of cheese. We had a great time tearing into the food all the same.

I trust I know Brandon by what he tells me. His actions, however, tell me more. He was self-aware of his and his car’s faults and cared for my parents enough not to wake them.

Your characters are similar. Every action they do reflects their character to the reader. When you write a scene, and she runs a finger across the spines of books, what does that tell your reader? What does his reaction show your audience when he drops his wrench into the engine’s heart? When his lawn hasn’t been mowed for weeks, what does that say?

I’ll leave you with a piece of dialogue from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web to show that words can give us insight into character, but remember how she backed up her words through her actions.

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother.

“Out to the hoghouse,” replied Mrs. Arable. “Some pigs were born last night.”

“I don’t see why he needs an ax,” continued Fern, who was only eight.

“Well,” said her mother, “one of the pigs is a runt. It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it.”

“Do away with it?” shrieked Fern. “You mean kill it? Just because it’s smaller than the others?”

Beliefs represented by individual authors are not necessarily shared by all members of ICW.


  • Peter Leavell

    Peter Leavell, a graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history and a MA in English Literature, was the 2011 winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author, along with multiple other awards. An author, blogger, teacher, ghostwriter, jogger, biker, husband, and father, Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at www.peterleavell.com

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