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Show vs. Tell

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Many PB uses metaphors to "show". While some do straightforward  "tell". It is something I am always very careful about.

One of the books I read recently is "Life " by Cynthia Rylant. The book is mostly telling children about life, except one metaphor of elephant. As an adult, I love this book, for how honest yet positive it is when talking about life. While as a writer, I cannot help think if children would be able to understand.

On Goodreads, one reviewer commented  "I feel like adults rave about, but kids go “meh.”  I personally think it is because this book has a very large portion of "telling" instead of "showing", and would like to hear more opinions from fellow writers.

Thank you !

#1 - October 25, 2017, 11:19 AM

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I have not read this book, Hui Li, but I will look it up because I enjoy Rylant's books. My kids too, when they were little. She's got a very poetic quality to her writing and though she "tells" a lot, she is also very specific in what she uses as an example. Illustrations help.

#2 - October 25, 2017, 11:44 AM
BOUND (Bodach Books, 2018)
TEN EASTER EGGS (Scholastic, 2015)
Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

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While I haven't read this particular story I think there are many books that break the show-don't-tell rule and still work.
Dr. Suess was very tell-y. For example Oh, The Places You'll Go or the Lorax are both stating things clearly, but it works for the story and art (old examples, I know). Show isn't always about metaphors but rather about action. Don't say "they were nervous", say" they chewed their fingernails to nubs." But there are times were telling works.
Also, kids are able to understand much more than we give them credit for. There was a quote, I can't remember it exactly, "If a story is too complex for adults, write it for children." I speak at schools and I'm impressed by young minds. Sometimes they discover things I've never even thought of, but the insight is amazing.

So, I can't really speak to this particular book but I hope my insight helped a bit.

#3 - October 25, 2017, 11:56 AM

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I haven't read the book either, but there are no rules. "Show, don't tell" is a guideline. In general, it's a good idea to use action or even setting (a rainy night) to express mood or outright emotion. But words are a valuable commodity and should never be wasted. Telling often uses fewer words than showing. Tell when the reader needs to know something that isn't important to waste many words on.
#4 - October 25, 2017, 08:02 PM
Twitter: @dvilardi1

I've not read it either but "show, don't tell" is a consistent downfall of mine. I'm long-winded in both my own life and writing one. Finding the balance between revealing how your character travels through a story and boring the reader to death with unnecessary drivel is a problem I've always had.
Also, anthropomorphic stories are extremely difficult to write. I started with writing those and occasionally I will write one. Getting the balance between a character who is non-human yet talks like you or I whilst maintaining their animal traits, well it's difficult.
Show don't tell is vital in that instance!
#5 - October 26, 2017, 06:23 AM


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