Monday, 12 October 2015

Bringing your writing to life, part 3 – the power of implication. By Andrew J Chamberlain

Suppose you read the following passage in a book:

“So,” said Bill, “how are thing between you and Susie?”
“We are not getting on well at the moment,” his brother said, “the marriage might not last.”

Now compare it to this passage:

“So,” said Bill, “how are thing between you and Susie?”
His brother smiled, and stared down at his nearly finished pint.
Finally, he said, “do you have time for another?”

The first passage gives everything away immediately. There is no intrigue, and no suspense. We are told there are problems and the likely outcome of them.

The second passage says less, and implies more. It contains within it two invitations, an invitation to Bill to stay and talk to his brother, and an invitation to the readers to stay with the story and find out what’s going on.

Very often implying something gives it more potency than saying it outright. A well placed implication can attract and engross the reader far more than simply telling them something.
Implying something, rather than saying it outright, is a powerful way to bring your writing to life. It’s a technique that can be used with other ones that I’ve already mentioned, for example dialogue.
Consider these two very different character descriptions of a lady we will call Mrs Mills. Here is the first one:
Mrs Mills is an older lady who is on her own and who is looking for new friends.  She has a son and grandchildren. She tries to keep active, and is interested in new ways of doing this.

This description gives us some facts about Mrs Mills. Together these facts form a sketch of her, but they don’t really tell us anything about her as a person, we have a rather bland image of her. We don’t really get a sense of who she is, the essence of her personality.

Now I want to see if I can convey more of her personality by hinting, implying and suggesting what she gets up to. I want show you who she is rather than just telling you who she is. In my alternative description of Mrs Mills, she is talking to one of her friends:

 “I took Daphne’s advice, and I’m going out with Desmond this evening, my goodness, I feel seventeen again!”

“Do you know, my son suggested I move in with his family. I laughed so much he put the phone down.”

“Don’t worry dear I’ll be jumping out of the plane with an instructor.”

My hope is that, as you read these clips of dialogue you were able to begin to get a sense of Mrs Mills’ personality, as well as pick up the cues about her personal circumstances. There are fewer straight facts about Mrs Mills in the second example than there are in the first, and yet (hopefully) you will feel that you know her so much better. This is an example of how to use the power of dialogue and implication to entice your reader, and energise your characters.

Andrew J Chamberlain is a writer, speaker, and creative writing tutor. You can join him with freelance editor and columnist Emma Newrick, and the Christian Historian and author Nick Page for "The Art of Story", a week of expert tuition, and one to one coaching in the beautiful setting of at the Lake District annual from 9th to 13th November, details of that course can be accessed here.


  1. Excellent post Andrew. On a topic dear to my heart!

  2. Thanks Mel. This is such an important topic, and it's one that's easy to appreciate but hard for all of us to get right!