SCBWI's Blueboard - A Message & Chat Board

Writer's Room => Picture Books (PB) => Topic started by: charles-richardson1 on October 11, 2019, 09:09 AM

Title: Struggling with "Show Don't Tell"
Post by: charles-richardson1 on October 11, 2019, 09:09 AM
I am struggling with understanding the idea of "show don't tell".  I have googled it and watched Youtube videos but it is still isn't clicking in the ol' brain.  Any suggestions on how to think about this concept, articles to read or videos to watch?

For example, I read words like could should be avoided so how would folks rewrite a sentence like this, "I could belly flop in to the pool a gazillion times until there wasn’t a drop left."

Any information would be appreciated.  Thanks.

Title: Re: Struggling with "Show Don't Tell"
Post by: Vijaya on October 11, 2019, 01:00 PM
Charles, the example you cite shows us how a character feels with a concrete example--it paints a picture in your mind. You want to show the important parts of the story and summarize the ones that don't matter by telling. For example, The next morning I took the train to see my sister. Since nothing important is going to happen on the train, it transitions me from one place to another, without describing what I saw on the train, whom I met, etc. But if something relevant to the story were to happen on the train, I'd dramatize it--that is showing--blow by blow.

You might want to take a story you like and take it apart. Analyze it. See how it is put together. And there are some excellent books on writing the picture book: I really like Picture Writing by Anastasia Suen and Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul
Title: Re: Struggling with "Show Don't Tell"
Post by: olmue on October 11, 2019, 05:13 PM
The places I see the most egregious examples of telling over showing are when relaying character emotions, usually during dialogue. If you just tell me that Sarah spoke angrily, but her actual dialogue and body language do not back that up, you have unconvincingly "told" me something I haven't seen.

But Vijaya makes an important point. There are times in a narrative to show, and yes, there are times to tell. Think of a news show. The reporter summarizes the background information to give you context. But there are some things that simply have to be shown, not merely told about. So the news report will jump to a video clip of what happened that day. That way, the viewers can be witnesses and form their  own opinions. Every single detail in your story does not need to be shown. But the important points of your plot, and the emotional lynch pins of your story, do.
Title: Re: Struggling with "Show Don't Tell"
Post by: Debbie Vilardi on October 11, 2019, 06:31 PM
You have great info above. I wrote an article on this for the SCBWI LI chapter newsletter: It's on page 10. I hope it helps clarify for you.
Title: Re: Struggling with "Show Don't Tell"
Post by: JulieM on October 11, 2019, 09:09 PM
I don't know if this will help but, in case it does, show don't tell is about leaving the reader to work out some things for themselves because that is rewarding to the reader. It's not giving them everything on a plate. For example, instead of saying "Jake felt anger rising inside him", you could describe his actions that would allow the reader to work out that Jake is angry: "Jake suddenly turned on his heels and slammed the door on the way out". With picture books, it's also about leaving lots of room for the illustrator. So the author can tend to avoid describing colors of things (for example), and write more about feelings, scents, sounds, actions,  and other things that can't be illustrated very easily.
The more you read other books in your genre, the more examples you will find to help you understand this topic more fully.
Title: Re: Struggling with "Show Don't Tell"
Post by: charles-richardson1 on October 16, 2019, 05:25 AM
Thanks for all the great feedback.
Title: Re: Struggling with "Show Don't Tell"
Post by: thunderingelephants on October 20, 2019, 09:07 AM
I just jumped in here, for some reason. Here's my opinion:
The subject of "show, don't tell" is really difficult for most writers, I think, because you already know your plot, your characters & the conclusion. But your readers don't. However, it's a real struggle for a lot of writers to stop explaining what is happening: that's my difficulty every time. So I stopped: a brief description is usually all that's needed. That way the reader can make their mind on the possible personality of the character...and maybe even form themselves around them whilst reading.

On that note, I was chatting to a little girl today in the coffeeshop who informed me that there should be a yellow dinosaur. We were talking about dragons!