This article can also be found here.
Food is great. There’s no denying that. So even if this acronym makes you hungry, this is a great way to remember how to show more instead of telling. There are three simple things that can be used throughout work to make readers feel what is going on instead of being told what is happening. Especially in dialogue, E.A.T.ing can be extremely helpful for showing instead of telling.
E.A.T. stands for this:
E – Expression
A – Action
T – Thought
Expression covers what is on a character’s face.
Action covers what a character’s body language is.
Thought covers what runs through a character’s head as they speak and react to what other characters say.
Some things to remember while using E.A.T.:
-Do not use it every single time during dialogue. Most of the time, E.A.T. will be very useful. However, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Be careful not to overload and overwhelm a reader.
-When a character is the narrator, especially in first person, it is usually best to stick to A and T of E.A.T. because characters, unless looking into a mirror, cannot see their own facial expressions. Avoiding a character describing his or her own face keeps the story authentic because it remains told from that character’s eyes. There are some instances where it is acceptable to describe a character’s facial expression, such as “my jaw dropped” or “my eyes were wide.” But “I had a surprised look on my face” could be worded much more differently and could show the readers more instead of telling. Readers aren’t stupid. They can figure out if a character has a surprised look on their face or not by the actual actions that the character does. Also, everyone’s surprised face is just a little bit different. Use this to distinguish your characters.
-Good places to try to use E.A.T. are when there are filter words present such as: “I felt,” “I saw,” I heard,” “I wondered.” For example, “I wondered if she thought I was annoying” could be translated into a character’s actual thought. “She probably thought I was annoying” would be more thought-like. Also, the filter words are often empty words and very redundant. Readers know the narrator is feeling, seeing, hearing, wondering, etc.
-When a character is talking to another character, usually it is very hard to know what another person is thinking unless it is a story where there is telepathy involved. E and A are the best bet for when a narrator is conversing with another character. However, there are some small things here and there to avoid as well. For example, even something as small as “He stared at the wall” when a character is merely facing it. How can the narrator know if the character is staring if they can’t see where the other person’s eyes are? Be careful to remember who’s point of view a story is from and tell the story from the right eyes.
Another note on the E of E.A.T.:
-When a narrator is describing his or her facial expression, usually facial expressions are a subconscious action. A character (and people) feel when they are smiling or frowning. Avoid saying something general like “I gave her a confused look” or “I looked surprised.” Not everyone can feel their foreheads creasing, but some of them come. There is going to be some author discretion involved in E. But the most important factor that will help an author know if the facial expression should be included or not.
Why is it important to E.A.T.?
Showing, not telling is one of the biggest problems in today’s fiction. (Although I will abstain from naming names.) A story can be decent with a little showing and lots of telling. But it is hard to leave a lasting impression and impact on readers if they cannot feel the emotions of the characters or get inside their heads. E.A.T. is a very effective way to subtly show, not tell, and will give writing so much more power.
E.A.T. is an acronym created by me, Jelsa. I have been using it in critiques and in my own writing, and I thought I would share it with everyone else so authors can make their words just a little more lasting in their readers’ minds. As I continued telling people what they could do to show instead of tell so much, this acronym popped into my head when I saw the three things a lot of work, published and non-published, lack. Therefore, I felt the need to write this article.
He was happy.
She was sad.
He didn’t know what to say.
She was annoyed.