Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 28, 2017

Make A Scene – The TADA Method by Gabriela Pereira

MAKE A SCENE By Gabriela Pereira

You’ve probably heard the writing class cliché “show, don’t tell,” but rarely does anyone explain how to do it. Telling is when you skim the surface and summarize what is happening in your story. It’s great for transitions or to convey information quickly, but it doesn’t allow the reader to sink into the scene and feel like they’re there with the characters.

Showing is what brings a scene to life. When you do it well, your reader will feel like they’re side by side with your characters, experiencing your story as it unfolds. But don’t be fooled into thinking that you should always show and never tell. If you describe each and every detail of a scene, you risk boring your readers to tears. In children’s books it’s especially important to find a balance between show and tell because you have very tight word counts and little room for error.
The reason so many people repeat that “show, don’t tell” refrain is that for most writers, the latter tends to come more naturally than the former. Let’s face it, bringing characters to life on the page is hard and it’s tempting to fall back on what feels easy.

The best way to show characters is to make a scene. I don’t mean the way a toddler throwing a tantrum might make a scene; I mean crafting a moment in your story that feels truly immersive to your readers. Here’s an exercise to show you how.

Make Your Characters Come Alive

To practice showing your characters in scenes, do this 15-minute exercise. Start by going to and getting a writing prompt. The Writer Igniter is like a slot machine for writers, just click the “shuffle” button and you’ll get a randomized combination of a character, situation, prop, and setting.

Note: Don’t click the shuffle button over and over until you find a combination you like, that’s cheating! If the first prompt you get is terrible, you can have one do-over. After that stick with what you get.

Set a timer for ten minutes and write until your time is up. Don’t worry if you can’t incorporate the prop or setting into what you write. Focus first and foremost on the character and the situation, and if you can weave in the setting and prop, that’s a bonus. The key thing is for you to be grounded in a single time and place with that character. Focus on writing a scene.

When you look over what you wrote, think about the different ways you brought your character to life in that scene. Consider the four main ways of showing character: thoughts, action, dialogue, and appearance. I call this the TADA! method, where each letter in “TADA” stands for one of those four elements. When you use the right amount of each… TADA! You’ve shown your character.
But first, let’s look more closely at each of those four elements.

T is for Thought: What are the characters thinking or feeling during the scene? How can you show those thoughts and emotions, rather than just saying, “he feels angry”?
A is for Action: What are the characters doing? Consider word choice and using specific language to convey emotion or subtext. There’s a big difference between whether your character walks, stomps, or tip-toes across a room.
D is for Dialogue: What do the characters say to each other? And are they saying what they actually mean? If they’re not, how can you show that disconnect between what they’re saying and what they’re thinking?
A is for Appearance: What do the characters look like? When it comes to creating subtext, appearance can be a great way to help the reader infer what a character is thinking or feeling.

Create a Character Compass

I’m a visual person, so it often helps me to draw a diagram so I can really see whether I’m getting that balance between the TADA elements right. The Character Compass is a tool I’ve developed to help me visualize how I’m depicting a character in a scene.

Here’s how it works:

1. Draw a circle and bisect it twice with vertical and horizontal lines, so that it looks like crosshairs.
2. Label the axes TADA for Thought, Action, Dialogue, and Appearance respectively.
3. As you read over the scene you wrote, keep a tally of when you use each of the TADA components. I like to use different colored highlighters and mark the lines where I use each element.
4. Fill out the compass by placing a dot along each of the axes in your compass. The more times you use each component, the farther out toward the edge of the circle the dot should go. (See image.)
5. Connect the dots and shade in the shape to give yourself a visual representation of how much you used each element.

Keep in mind, the Character Compass is not intended as a prescriptive tool. You don’t need to have a perfectly balanced compass for each and every scene you write. Instead, use it as a diagnostic tool, to spot patterns in your writing. If across several scenes you see that one particular TADA element is underrepresented, this is a signal that you may want to look at that element more closely.

Reflection: Once you’ve finished this exercise, pause and reflect on your Character Compass. Is it a good representation of how you usually write, or do you think this exercise was an outlier? Is there one area of character development that you need to work on more?

The Character Compass is one of many tools and techniques I’ve developed to help writers assess their writing and improve their craft. For more juicy info, and to get a free DIY MFA starter kit, go to and sign up with your email. You can also learn more about the TADA! method and how to develop great characters in Chapter Nine of the DIY MFA book.
Now go write something awesome. Go… make a scene!

Gabriela Pereira is a writer, speaker, and self-proclaimed word nerd who wants to challenge the status quo of higher education. As the founder and instigator of, her mission is to empower writers to take an entrepreneurial approach to their professional growth. Gabriela earned her MFA in creative writing from The New School and teaches at national conferences, regional workshops, and online. She is also the host of DIY MFA Radio, a popular podcast where she interviews bestselling authors, and is the author of the book DIY MFA: WRITE WITH FOCUS, READ WITH PURPOSE, BUILD YOUR COMMUNITY (Writer’s Digest Books, 2016).

Link to DIY MFA Starter Kit:
Link to DIY MFA Book:
Link to Writer Igniter:

Thank you Gabriela for sharing your expertise and ideas with us. Her book is available on Amazon.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. This was beyond helpful! I have been day dreaming about writing a book.. But haven’t started yet because of lack of experience or how to start. But this will work for every scene, and every chapter. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.


    • Saloni, don’t make the same mistake I did when I started writing. Make sure you do a lot study with those who have already published and take some online courses in writing. I published my first three books without all of that and am now going back to correct my mistakes. Be patient. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will try to be patient, and calm about my decisions. Interacting with experienced writers is such a dream come true, because I can honestly learn from you and start out better. Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry about the mistakes in my comment. Sometimes my mind goes faster than my fingers, and I forget to proofread before hitting that “post” button. I type more than 100 wpm now, and without reading what I’m thinking, it can really get me in trouble. LOL


    • Hi Saloni! I definitely second what Sharon said about building up a knowledge base, but I’ll also add that in writing a lot of the learning is in the doing. I’m a big fan of programs offered by groups like SCBWI for building up that technical knowledge, but it’s also important to put what you learn into action. What I love about the character compass is that it’s a tool you can apply again and again to your writing so you can see how you’re learning and growing over time. Write on!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I quite liked it too. It quantifies all the aspects of the writing experience from the perspective of the reader and the writer. It is a simple lesson, but just precise for everyone. I can only imagine how much the classes would help me. Thank you for replying 😀


  2. I had the pleasure of taking Gabriela’s workshop at the NJSCBWI conference. It really is a great method that I plan to use in future stories.


    • Hi Darlene! So glad you enjoyed taking the workshop at the NJSCBWI conference. That event was so super-fun! This is one of my go-to methods for bringing characters to life on the page so I’m glad you found it useful.


  3. Reblogged this on Sharon K. Connell and commented:
    Good advice to help your readers have a more enjoyable experience in your stories.


  4. Thank you for presenting this information. I know my blog readers and those on my Facebook Group Forum for writers and readers will appreciate reading it.


    • So glad you found it useful Sharon! Write on!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, I am. Just finished my first rewrite. Can’t wait to get it published so people can read the story the way it should have been written the first time. Now they have two good books out there from me, written in deep POV. On to the next rewrite, then one more to go. I’m a happy camper…errr…writer. LOL


  5. so helpful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  6. I certainly am familiar with SDT, but I like the way you break it down…spell it out…and make it fresh. Thank you. 🙂 And I’m intrigued with the character compass. I’ve got to give that a try, for sure!


  7. I love the whole compass idea! Visual is good 🙂 And yours was a workshop I missed! *sigh*


  8. . visual is unspoiled 🙂 And yours was a workshop I missed!


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