Show Don't Tell: Writing Romance

Not open for further replies.


Returned from the Void
Original poster
Invitation Status
  1. Looking for partners
Posting Speed
  1. One post per day
  2. 1-3 posts per week
  3. One post per week
Writing Levels
  1. Intermediate
  2. Adept
  3. Advanced
Preferred Character Gender
  1. No Preferences
Urban Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Quest, Sci-Fi, Time Travel and World Hopping, Steampunk, Action/Adventure, Modern Drama, Mystery, Slice of Life, Romance, and many more.
It's been a while, but I'm back on the topic of

Today, I/we am/are discussing the Show Don't Tell technique for talking about a character being in love or having a crush. Prepare for a cheese-covered example!

Dylan watched him go, and waited until he disappeared around the corner to collapse backward in his chair. Jesus; it was a wonder he was still breathing.
The feeling was familiar, a warmth flowing from his fingertips to his chest, warming like a pleasant electric heat. He reached for a pen, and forced himself out of his seat to walk to the calendar and circle the date.
His date. His date with Matt.
He gulped, swallowing past the pounding in his throat. He hadn't felt this nervous about a date since middle school; now here he was, a grown-ass man sweating bullets over the thought of coffee.
He'd have to do laundry; all his good shirts were dirty, and he'd need a good shirt. A tie too, maybe. But it depended on what kind of place this restaurant was; he'd have to do research. Everything had to be perfect. Licking his dry lips, he sat back down in his chair and swiveled back to his desk. Work could wait a minute; he had googling to do.
It's pretty obvious Dylan's dealing with a crush at the very least, right? But notice how the word 'crush' doesn't come up? Neither do any synonyms like 'love', 'infatuation', 'strong feelings' 'like' etc.

This is an example of 'show, don't tell'. We use Dylan's feelings (the physical sensations he experiences like a pounding heartbeat and sweating) as well as his behaviour (stressful actions and worrying over what to wear) to show how he feels without having to put a name on it. Generally speaking, 'Show Don't Tell' is a good rule to follow because it helps readers connect with a character more personally by giving them things they can understand and empathize with. You can't get a reader to feel scared just by saying a room had a scary atmosphere, but you can describe how there were cobwebs drifting like ghosts from the ceiling, the floor was damp with an unknown liquid, and a breath of chilly air seemed to come from nowhere, giving your character goosebumps. We know how creepy big spider webs can be; nobody likes standing in a puddle, and I'm sure we've all had chills from an unexpected breeze, so now we're standing in the character's shoes and we don't need you to tell us to be unnerved; we already are!

Show Don't Tell can go beyond simply making for a better or more relatable description though; in the case of romance, we can use it to enhance the drama and suspense! There's a few ways to go about this, including but not limited to:
  • "I won't say I'm in Love"
    When a character exhibits all the signs of being head over heels, but refuses to admit it to themselves. Reasons for denying it are limited only by your imagination, and it's true that it's a bit of a cliche, but let's face it; it's freakin' adorable to watch a character in denial finally work their way toward admitting it.
  • "I don't wanna say it yet"
    A character may be comfortable with the idea of having feelings for someone without wanting to voice and define those feelings just yet. By keeping the label out of the description as well as their dialogue, it brings an extra level of satisfaction when they finally are ready to say those three little words

These are just my personal two favourite ways to use this method.

When you restrain yourself from applying the 'love'/'crush'/'infatuation'/'like' label, it can build an extra layer of suspense; admitting that it's love or that they like someone, and saying that you love someone are big relationship steps, so don't be afraid to milk them a bit!

Optional exercise: Write a scene in a similar vein to the example with Dylan up above; a scene where a character is experiencing romance on some level (they can be hanging out with the person they like, noticing them for the first time, separate but thinking about them, planning a date, wrestling with the definition of their feeling, anything) but do not name the feeling; instead use Show Don't Tell by way of body languages, the five senses, and what they're thinking about and physically doing to show how they feel

Myrror Akantha

Beautiful Hybrid
Invitation Status
Posting Speed
  1. Speed of Light
  2. Multiple posts per day
  3. 1-3 posts per day
Online Availability
Writing Levels
  1. Give-No-Fucks
  2. Beginner
  3. Elementary
  4. Intermediate
  5. Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Female
Fantasy, romantic, Horror
This is actually really good. Ive done some romantic role plays in the past and they seem to be over within an hour because either my character or the one im doing the rp with admits to the love they have too quickly. So this will be good practice for me.


Thank you for writing this, as someone that enjoys romance a lot i'm sure it will come to be quite useful!
Not open for further replies.