Style encompasses a number of different features. Here are some of them for you to think about.

1) There is a well known phrase in writing circles, Show don't tell.

So what does it mean, and why is it such good advice?

In essence, it means, Actions speak louder than words

It's no use telling your reader that the hero is a man of action if you then go on to show him in a series of social situations, because your reader won't believe you. If you say that he's a man of action, then you need to include some action in each of his scenes. If he's talking to his friend about something, then instead of having them in the library you could have them fencing. If he needs to talk to the heroine about something then you could have him meeting her whilst out riding. And put in at least one scene of conspicuous action, for example show him taking charge when a barn catches fire on his estate, or show him stopping a runaway horse - anything you like, just as long as you SHOW him to be a man of action, rather than merely saying that he is.

  • Example

    It's much better to show your reader how your characters feel, or what incidents from their past haunt them etc, instead of telling them about it.

    In Titanic Affair my heroine, Emilia, has been pursued by Silas Montmorency before the book opens. I could have opened the book by telling the reader all about it, like this:

    Emilia Cavendish was very unhappy. Her aunt had just died and she was worried about Silas Montmorency. He had forced his attentions on her when her aunt was still alive, and she had hated it, but her aunt had given her some protection. He'd come to see her again when her aunt had died and asked her to marry him. When she'd refused, he'd told her he meant to have her at any cost, and so she had decided to run away. She had kept running from one boarding house to another, and now, thanks to her godmother sending her a ticket for the Titanic, she was going to Ireland, where she would be safe.

    But this is starting with the back story. It's also giving the reader too much information at once, and finally, it's telling, not showing. Instead, I started Titanic Affair with Emilia packing her bags, and then proceed to some action as her landlady hurries in to tell her that Silas is at the end of the street:

    Titanic Affair Cover

    Miss Emilia Cavendish, kneeling in her rented room on a bright morning in the spring of 1912, was packing her portmanteau in preparation for a new life with her godmother. In front of her, the portmanteau was almost full. She looked round the shabby room to make sure she had not forgotten anything, running her eyes over the iron bed, the chest of drawers and the washstand, but the surfaces were all bare. Once she had packed her last dress she would have finished.

    Her thoughts returned to her coming journey and her spirits lifted. As long as she could avoid Mr Montmerency for a few more hours then she would be able to escape him. She would be out of his power, and sailing on the Titanic for her godmother's home in Ireland. She finished her packing and was just about to close her bag when her heart skipped a beat, for she heard the sound of footsteps hurrying up the stairs.

    No, he can't have found me, she thought in fright. A moment later she breathed a sigh of relief as Mrs Wichwood hurried into the room, but the feeling was short lived. The kindly landlady's face was worried, and Emilia guessed that something dreadful had happened.

    'He's here,' said Mrs Wichwood, puffing and panting. 'Mr Montmerency. I've just seen him at the end of the street, and he's got that Mr Barker with him. He's found you.'

    'Then I must go,' said Emilia, springing to her feet and fastening her portmanteau.

    'Yes, dear, get away while you can. Go out the back way, then he won't see you leave.'

    'Delay them as much as you can,' begged Emilia. 'Make them wait at the door and then keep them talking for as long as possible.'

    'Don't you fear, I'll do my best. You just worry about getting yourself down to the harbour. Good luck, my dear.'

    Emilia picked up her bag then ran down the stairs and into the kitchen.

    'Write to me from Ireland,' said Mrs Wichwood, following her. 'I won't be easy in my mind until I know you've escaped.'

    'I will, I promise,' said Emilia, opening the back door.

    'And if he gets you before you reach the ship, you send word to me,' said Mrs Wichwood. 'I'll find a way to help you, somehow.'

    'Dear Mrs Wichwood, what would I do without you?' said Emilia gratefully. She gave the elderly woman a hug. 'Don't worry, I'll make sure they don't catch me,' she said.

    Then opening the door she stepped outside.

    This shows the heroine acting in ways consistent with her situation, rather than simply telling the reader all about it.

    You will probably have noticed that the above extract only tells part of the story. We know that Emilia is frightened of Silas Montmerency, but we don't know the full story. That means the reader has something to intrigue her, which means she has a reason to keep reading.

    The rest of the story is hinted at several times before Emilia tells the hero all about it. This happens about halfway through the book. By this time, the reader has had a chance to become interested in the characters, and therefore she is more interested in finding out their history.

    If you let the heroine tell the hero the full story, it provides you with a compelling scene between the two of them. It's far more interesting for the reader this way, because she can see how they react to each other as well as discovering the story. It's far more interesting for you as a writer, as well, because you can include dialogue and body language in the scene, which you can't if you simply tell it. In other words, although the heroine is telling the hero the story, you, as a writer, are showing it.

    This is how Emilia finally tells Carl all about it. She is being threatened by Silas's henchman, Barker, who has followed her onto Titanic. He cannot harm her for the present, as he can't get into first class, but she is worried about what will happen when she leaves the ship.

    'Mr Latimer, you have sailed before. I was just wondering, what happens when we leave the ship?'

    He looked surprised, but nevertheless he answered her question, telling her about the procedure for disembarking and going through customs.

    'Are there any places . . . is there anywhere the different classes come into contact?'

    He eyed her curiously. Then said,' Why don't you tell me what is troubling you?'

    'There's nothing,' she said brightly. 'I was just curious, that's all.'

    'No. It's more than that. You're worried about something - and don't tell me it's about disembarkation, because I don't believe you. Has someone in steerage been bothering you?'

    She hesitated again, wondering how much she should say.

    'Something frightened you on Thursday,' he said, walking towards her and stopping a few feet in front of her. He looked down at her in concern. 'It frightened you so badly that you ran across the deck and into my arms. Not that I'm complaining,' he added with a warm smile. Then his smile faded. 'You were in steerage at the time. Now you are asking me if you will have to meet anyone from steerage when you disembark. What is it, Emilia? What happened? And why are you frightened it might happen again?'

    She bit her lip.

    'Won't you trust me?' he asked softly. 'If you do, I might be able to help you.'

    She looked at him, trying to make up her mind. He was a wealthy man, ruthless and hard. And yet she had the innate feeling that he was trustworthy. He might be like Silas Montmerency in circumstances, but he was nothing like him in character. And it was character that determined a man's actions, not his wealth.

    'Very well.' She paused, then began. 'There is a man by the name of Barker. I knew him in Southampton. Two days ago, I saw him on the ship.' She paused again. 'He is in the employ of a gentleman named Silas Montmerency.'

    He said nothing, but waited for her to continue.

    She walked over to the window.

    'When I was younger, I lived in the Cotswolds, but when I was nineteen my parents were killed in an accident and I went to live in Southampton with my Aunt Clem. She was a wonderful woman. She was always cheerful, and so full of life. She took me in and looked after me, and although her circumstances were straitened, she did everything in her power to cheer me and make me happy. I had always liked her, but the more I knew her, the more I came to love her. We lived very happily together, enjoying each other's company, until . . . until her death last year.'

    'I'm sorry,' he said gently.

    'Thank you.'

    She turned to face him.

    'Aunt Clem lived in a rented house,' she went on. 'Once a month her landlord would call to collect the rent. He was a respectable man, but he had a friend . . . One day, this friend, Mr Silas Montmerency, accompanied the landlord to our house. He . . . took a liking to me.'

    Carl's mouth set in a grim line. 'I see.'

    She rubbed her hands together in a nervous gesture.

    'Aunt Clem had taken the landlord out into the garden to show him her new bed of flowers. She loved flowers,' she said with a smile. Then her face darkened. 'Mr Montmerency . . . he put his arms round me and he kissed me.' Her head dropped, and she shuddered with the memory of it. At length she roused herself. 'Whilst he was still embracing me, Aunt Clem came in. She was horrified. He told her that he meant no offence, and said that he wanted to marry me. He said he could give me everything I had lost. He sounded generous . . . kindly . . . but there was something about him that made me afraid. When he had pulled me into his arms, he had ignored my struggles and my repeated requests that he let me go. And when he had kissed me, he had made my skin crawl. He was a respectable man on the outside, but there was something poisonous about him underneath. It made me afraid of ever falling into his power. When I refused him, he became angry: he was a wealthy man, and he was used to getting his own way.'


    She could tell by his expression that he understood why she had been so hostile to him at their first meeting.

    'He told me I could have six weeks to think about it, but that one way or another he would have me, and that I had better make my mind up to it.'

    She smoothed her skirt.

    'Aunt Clem had been ill. Her health deteriorated rapidly. It was winter, and she fell ill with pneumonia. In her weakened state she did not live very long.' She bit her lip, for she had loved her Aunt Clem dearly. 'After the funeral, I moved to another lodging house. I thought I had shaken Mr Montmerency, but two months later I saw one of his henchmen following me home from the shops. He noted the house and then left. I knew he had gone to tell Mr Montmerency where I could be found. I didn't wait for him to return. I packed my bags and left at once. And so I have lived for the last few months, changing houses every time he found me.

    As you can see from the above passage, the scene allows the hero and heroine to grow closer. It allows for confidences. It also allows for reactions. It's far less dry than the 'tell' method. By coming to it gradually you keep the reader interested for half a book, instead of letting her find out everything on the first few pages.


    Here are some examples of viewpoint.

  • Teresa entered the room. The fire was glowing brightly in the grate. In front of it sat a large hound, and to the left of it sat a gentleman. He was about thirty years of age, with dark hair and craggy features. He was dressed in an unbuttoned shirt and a pair of cream breeches. He looked up as she entered the room.

    'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you,' she said.

    'You're not disturbing me,' he replied, through from his grimace she guessed that he was lying. 'Come in.'

    The above is told from the heroine's viewpoint. Now here is the scene told from the hero's viewpoint.

  • Matthew sat by the fire with his hound at his feet. He heard a sound and looked towards the door. It was opening.

    Damn! he thought. Just when I didn't want to be disturbed.

    The door opened fully to reveal a neat young woman in a grey gown, carrying a shabby valise. She checked on seeing him.

    'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you,' she said.

    'You're not disturbing me,' he said, lying through his teeth in an effort to be polite. 'Come in.'

    Notice that in both examples we know that he's lying, but the method of telling it is different. From the heroine's viewpoint, we need some visible sign that he is lying, so that she can guess. This is because, from her viewpoint, we are only allowed to know what she knows. She can't suddenly become a mind reader and tell us what everyone else is thinking. If the scene is told from his viewpoint we can have his thoughts, because of course, he knows what he is thinking.

  • There is another type of viewpoint, sometimes called the 'omniscient narrator', in other words the person telling the story knows everything and tells us everything, allowing us to see into every character's hearts and minds. It is also called, in a derogatory manner, 'head hopping.'

    It was very much out of fashion at one point, but as long as you don't use it too often it will be accepted by most publishers. Here's an example of using it too often.

    Teresa entered the room.

    Matthew looked up as she entered, seeing a neat young woman in a grey gown.

    She took in his cream breeches and unbuttoned shirt.

    Just when I didn't want to be disturbed, he thought.

    'I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you,' she said.

    'You're not disturbing me,' he said, lying through his teeth. 'Come in.'

    She sat down by the fire.

    The waiter came in. He'd served many people in his time, but he thought that the two people in the room at the moment were the most ill-matched pair hed ever seen.

    'Would you like to order?' he asked.

    Matthew glanced at the young woman. Should he let her order first?

    Teresa was about to take a menu, but she was not one of the quality and decided she must let the strange gentleman order first.

    If it's overdone, this style is very confusing. It's rather like expecting your reader to watch a ping pong match! I've thrown in the waiter's thoughts as well in this scene, to show you what not to do! If you let the reader know what everyone is thinking it gets very confusing. Just let the reader know the important thoughts.

  • Here's an example of more restrained head hopping.

  • Teresa entered the room. The fire was glowing brightly in the grate. In front of it sat a large hound, and to the left of it sat a gentleman. He was about thirty years of age, with dark hair and craggy features. He was dressed in an unbuttoned shirt and a pair of cream breeches. He looked up as she entered the room.

    'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you,' she said.

    'You're not disturbing me,' he replied, thinking at the same time, Her entrance could not have been worse timed.'Come in.'

    I personally feel that a switch of viewpoint is best used at the end of a scene, for example

  • Teresa entered the room. The fire was glowing brightly in the grate. In front of it sat a large hound, and to the left of it sat a gentleman. He was about thirty years of age, with dark hair and craggy features. He was dressed in an unbuttoned shirt and a pair of cream breeches. He looked up as she entered the room.

    'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you,' she said.

    'You're not disturbing me,' he replied, through from his grimace she guessed that he was lying. 'Come in.'

    She entered the room and sat down opposite him, ordering an ordinary when the waiter entered and then eating her meal in silence. A horn sounded from outside. She stood up quickly.

    'You are travelling on the stage?' he asked her.

    'Yes,' she said.

    'Then I wish you a safe journey.'

    She left the room. After she had gone he found himself thinking about her. There had been something about her eyes - he had the strange feeling that he had seen her before.

    In this example, it's in Teresa's viewpoint for most of the scene, but when she leaves the room, he has an opportunity to reflect on what has happened.

    It's up to you which viewpoint to use, but generally speaking, a book is more successful if you pick one viewpoint for most of your book (either the hero or the heroine's viewpoint) and stick to it, with only the occasional switch at the end of a section if necessary to let us know a major character's vital thoughts - vital because they explain why he or she is acting in a manner which might seem odd if we don't know why they're doing it, or vital to let us know that they are attracted to each other. Alternatively, have occasional sections from the opposite viewpoint - that is, from the hero's viewpoint if the book is mostly told in the heroine's viewpoint.

    Look through your favourite Regencies and see how your favuorite authors handle viewpoint.


    The idea of voice is something new writers often find difficult to understand. Think of a story like Pride and Prejudice. It is one story, but it has been made into a number of films and TV series. Each film/series tells the same story, but it does it in a different way, in other words, each version has its own 'voice'.The David Rintoul version is restrained and in keeping with the Regency period. The Colin Firth version is much more modern, some might say over the top, with a truly wild Lydia and a shrieking Mrs Bennet. The film with Laurence Olivier is different again.

    You might well have seen a number of versions of Shakespeare plays, or multiple versions of Emma. You might have seen different actors play Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. Each one brings their own stamp to the part, or in other words, their own 'voice'.

    You have probably heard different singers sing standard songs. Each one of them approaches it in a different way, at a slightly different speed perhaps. Some make it light and catchy, some make it dramatic, but all put their own stamp on it.

    This is what you have to do, as a writer. You have to put your own stamp on a novel. You have to find your own 'voice'.

    Read through your book. Is it light and humorous? Is it dramatic? Is it intense? Is it bawdy? If it doesn't have a character, you need to give it one. Decide what you like writing, eg humour or intensity, and rewrite your book a scene at a time, putting in more humour or intensity, or more irreverence, or whatever you think your voice is going to be. If it already has a voice, but it isn't very noticeable, try exaggerating it. Make your funny scenes funnier if you want to develop a humorous style, or make your dramatic scenes even more dramatic if you prefer that way of writing.

    Don't go over the top and make it ridiculous, but by exaggerating your style you wil give yourself a more distinctive voice and make your books stand out.

    Remember, editors see hundreds, even thousands of typescripts a year, and even when they've ruled out the badly written, poorly spelled books, there are still too many left for them to publish, because the market will only sustain a certain number of books. What they are looking for is a book that stands out from the rest, not in terms of story, because each book needs a hero and heroine falling in love and an intriguing plot, but in terms of style or 'voice'.

    Back to Writing Tips