Tuesday, July 7, 2020

No More Tattletales in Our Writing

by PeggySue Wells @PeggySueWells

Show don’t tell. 

Easier said than done? A quick way to assure your writing is not telling is to eliminate the telling words, the tattletales. These are the words that tell the reader what to think rather than showing and trusting the reader to draw smart conclusions. 

Whether the project is an article, novella, or epic saga, when the manuscript is finished, go back through and delete – with extremely rare exception – these eight tattletales. Eliminating the telling words shifts the writer from telling to showing.

Here are eight words tattletales that are best removed.

1. Even. Even the kids like going to the racetrack.
Show: Fans crowd into the pit where Randy’s older brother – after two by-pass surgeries – still crews without getting messy. They want to show the cars to their kids and recall these optimistic heroes who embodied the American spirit in an era overshadowed by the Vietnam controversy and Watergate. They come to reminisce. 

2. It. It was a Southern California phenomena. 
Show: In a perpetual test of torque and Newtonian physics to see how fast they could go in a six-second ride, these hyperactive, brilliant mechanics shoehorned nitro-guzzling, supercharged motors into chassis made of exhaust tubing and mounted on a short wheelbase. 

3. Just. The race track is just the place for action shots. 
Show: The flame-throwing AA fuel altered cars with their blazing color schemes and crazy drivers make great action shots. You can practically smell the nitro. Smoke gets in your eyes.

4. Literally. Fellow drivers literally woke Wild Willie at the starting line.
Show: Wild Willie Borsch’s cavalier one-handed steering was actually Willie gripping the outside of the unpredictable Winged Express as the car spun from guardrail to centerline. That is, after friends like Randy woke the narcoleptic Borsch at the starting line.

5. Love. He loves to drive fast.
Show: The loudest on the track, nostalgia legends draw audiences to the stands to watch Rat Trap’s 75-year-old driver, Ron Hope, try to match 70-year-old Randy’s personal best of 0 to 240 miles per hour in six seconds.

Use the word love to describe a relationship such as mother and child, best friends, husband and wife, girl and her horse. To say, ‘She loved her earrings’ is slang and dates the project to current lingo. Choose the word that accurately describes a character’s response to an inanimate object. For instance: He is careful with his saddle. She retreats to her seaside cottage. 

6. Really. The fuel-altered race car was really loud.
Show: The flaming, unpredictable fuel-altered car thundered down the slick track. 

7. Some. Some guys dared to see how fast they could go. 
Show: Unregulated, these pioneers of nitro and speed dared to see how fast they could go.

8. Very. Their innovation had a very far-reaching impact. 
Show: Their hard-won discoveries served as the launching pad for today’s racing community and contributed valuable information for the vehicles we presently drive.

Removing these tattletale words generally leads to adding descriptive text that more accurately illustraes the what, when, where, who, or why for the reader. Free of these weakening words, your writing will zing, communicate, and honor your reader’s attention.


Tropical island votary and history buff, PeggySue Wells parasails, skydives, snorkels, scuba dives, and has taken (but not passed) pilot training. Writing from the 100-Acre wood in Indiana, Wells is the bestselling author of twenty-eight books including The Slave Across the Street, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Homeless for the Holidays, and Chasing Sunrise. Optimistic dream-driver, PeggySue is named for the Buddy Holly song with the great drumbeat. At school author visits, she teaches students the secrets to writing, and speaks at events and conferences. Connect with her at www.PeggySueWells.com, on Facebook at PeggySue Wells, and Twitter @PeggySueWells.


  1. I know I use "just" too much. Thanks for the list!

  2. One has to appreciate anyone who chooses to use drag racing in their writing examples. Had to smile. Thanks Ms. Peggy Sue!

    1. I wrote a screenplay about the Legends of Nitro - Grandpa and Uncle Randy built Bradfords and Randy began racing before he had a license. 60 years later, he goes from 0 to 240 mph in six seconds. See you at the track!

  3. This is incredibly helpful, Peggy Sue. I am saving this one.
    Thank you for sharing this tips!

    1. Thank you for popping by to talk shop with the rest of us wordsmiths.

  4. Taking our writing to another level! Thank you, Peggy Sue. This is excellent.

    1. We are always growing in this craft. Keep writing, my friend.

  5. I use these tattletale words way too often. I have to go back and clean up my manuscript! Thanks, Peggy Sue, for these great useful suggestions

    1. I may or may not know about these pesky words through experience :)

  6. Replies
    1. What not to do is often as important as what to do. Lists are handy.