Monday, July 29, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #24: HOW to Show and Tell

When I started talking about "Show, don't tell," I didn't realize how much there was to discuss about this little writer's saying, but here we are on part three.  The HOW.  I'm going to try to show you how to approach building a scene up (SHOW) or breaking it down (TELL).

I'm working on a story right now about a brother and sister fighting over ice cream.  In my first draft, I wrote a scene kinda like this.  (Imagine two kids outside, complaining of the heat, when they hear the tunes of the ice cream truck coming down their street.)

As I continued revising the story I realized that the kids getting the ice cream wasn't as important as what they did with it after they got it. Sure, it's nice to see them work together and how that plan all clicked into place, but it didn't move the story along fast enough and it wasn't that funny either. 

I decided to take a SHOW scene and turn it into a TELL scene, like so:

This TELL scene still shows the kids working together and the illustration shows the SUPER CONE poster on the truck, which inspires the idea to share.  All the important information is still here, I just saved a lot of time that I can later spend on building the ice cream fight.

In my opinion, it is much easier to take a long scene and make it short.  All you really have to do is sum it up.

Here's a scene from Mo Willem's DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS.

The Pigeon wants to drive the bus and is trying all sorts of different tactics to get the reader (you) to let him.  This is all SHOW and there are two pages of it.  But what if you didn't have the time?  What if you decided that this wasn't one of the more important parts of the story?  How would you make it a TELL scene?*

You could say something like, The Pigeon tried bribery, coaxing, and anything else he could think of to gain permission to drive the bus.

The key is getting all the important information in that one or two telling sentences.

*Please understand and I am not suggesting that this book should be any different than it is.  Obviously the comedy comes from seeing this Pigeon try all these tactics and I personally think Mo Willems is a master of drawing complex emotions with simple lines.  I'm just playing with established stories to illustrate a point.

The bigger challenge, I feel, is taking a moment and drawing it out; taking a TELL and making it a SHOW.

Here's the opening from THE ADVENTURE OF A NOSE by Viviane Schwarz, illustrated by Joel Stewart:

If you wanted to get into why the Nose feels this way, perhaps you would open with a scene that shows Nose in a situation where he doesn't fit in.

You might add dialog with an Eyebrow.

You might describe the scenery, the time, the smells, the sounds.

You might add an internal monologue for the Nose.

Or you might have the Nose notice other things, like other body parts fitting into the scene or a poster saying, "Not fitting in?" 

Does the Nose have an interesting reaction to any of this?

All or some of these dimensions can be added to flesh out a scene. 

That said, you don't want to build something just to make it bigger.  The information has to be important to the plot or to the character.  Ideally both.

But don't worry about that too much.  Write something.  Try something.  Whip out a draft, then assess.  Do you need to show the reader more here?  Do you need to fast-forward to the point there?  Rewrite.  Re-assess.  Rinse.  Repeat.

In other news:  I'm having a HUGE PRIZE GIVEAWAY to celebrate my 1000th blog post.  Go here to enter.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

1000th Blog Post

It's hard to believe, but I've made it to 1000 blog posts!!!

Inspired by blogs like SouleMama and Angry Chicken, on November 18, 2007 I started Ninjawoman, a place to share my art, crafts, recipes, and stories of day-to-day like as an artist/author/mom.

A lot has happened in (nearly) six years.  I've published 3 books.  I've learned how to cook gluten-free, casein-free, sugar-free.  I no longer link people to my MySpace page.  (Ha!)  And Magoo has grown a ton.

When I saw that I was approaching my 1000th post, I figured I wanted to do something big: a prize bonanza to thank you all for stopping in, spending time with me, and leaving such wonderful, encouraging comments.  (Sidenote: It's crazy to think of the people I have met over the internet over that years.  It's truly a global community.  Wild.)  But this morning I had a better idea.  Instead of one BIG prize, I decided I would do a bunch of small prizes.  I want LOTS OF WINNERS!

Here are the prizes.  Rules are at the end.

Signed copy of MONKEY ONO.


You will receive 3 different packs of cards.  A Wink pack, a Monkey Ono pack, and a Fable pack.  Each pack has 4 blank cards in it.  Each card is different.

You will receive 3 different packs of cards.  A fish pack, a sumi-e bird pack, and a flower pack.  Each pack has 4 blank cards in it.  Each card is different.

(Remember my jewelry phase?)

One pair of celery green clay earrings with sterling silver hooks.

Silver plated pendant featuring a reproducing on my iris watercolor.

Matted 11 X 14" original collage of Master Zutsu (from the Wink books.)

Title: Brach Study #1.  Matted, 11 X 14" original watercolor painting.

I will critique either 1 picture book text or up to 10 pages (double-spaced, 12 pt font) of a YA or MG manuscript.
This is a great prize for beginning writers or someone who just wants a fresh set of eyes on something.
Turnaround time: 1 week.


I'm going to do a separate drawing for each prize.  If you want any of these little beauties, leave a comment on this post listing SPECIFICALLY what you'd like to win.

EXAMPLE:  Betty might say:  Enter me to win the ninja book pack and the earrings.  My email is

Then I'll enter Betty's name in the drawing for the ninja books and earrings.  

You can say "Enter me in everything."  Then I'll put your name in every drawing.  You can enter for one prize, three prizes, all prizes, five prizes, whatever you want, but YOU CANNOT WIN MORE THAN ONE PRIZE.  So if I pull Betty's name for the ninja book, and I also pull it for the earrings, she wins the first prize I pulled her name for and I'll pull a new name for the second prize.

Make sense?

Please be specific about which prizes you want and please leave your EMAIL in the comment so I don't have to track down a bunch of people.  I will send you an email notifying you of your prize and request a mailing address.  When I have everyone's mailing address, I will make a journey to the post office, tra la la.

I'll draw names in one week - on SUNDAY, August 4th.

GOOD LUCK and THANK YOU again for visiting my blog.  I really appreciate it!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

We just got back from vacation at Narragansett, CT and it was lovely.  (One of the loveliest parts was that it was only a two-hour drive away.)  I don't want to bore anyone with a day-by-day slide show, so I'll only hit the highlights.

Boogie boarding.

The lighthouse at Pt. Judith.

If you go down to the beach you can stack rocks.  (Beware the deafening foghorn.)

Putt-putt golf at Adventureland.

Magoo scored a hole-in-one on this Plinko-inspired hole. (No lie!)

The port of Galilee.

Magoo leaves an offering at the center of the Labyrinth on Block Island.

Walking the beaches.

Playing with his cousins.

Dog time.  (We're a cat house, but Magoo loves his aunt's dog, Poppy.)

It is amazing to me how fast the time goes when there's not much to do.  There was much leisure to be had, few chores, simpler days.

Very nice vacation.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Magoo and the Art of Boogie Boarding

The waves were pretty big when he first headed out.  (Now, please keep in mind these were big waves compared to what he's used to - which are pretty mild.  If you surf off the Australian coast, you'd laugh at these widdle waves.)  So, although he watched other people boogie board and have BIG TIME FUN, when Magoo got out there, those waves spanked him hard.

And that's good.  Because learning the lesson of WATER IS SUPER POWERFUL - RESPECT THE WATER - is a very good lesson to learn early.

He didn't give up.

Soon he learned which waves to bob over and which waves to dive into.  He learned how to time his launches.  And he learned that some waves would smack him into the sand and/or his board.  (I think we've all gotten a few bruises.)  But ultimately he learned that when you catch a wave just right, and it lifts you up instead of pushing you down, it's SO MUCH FUN!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #23: When to Show and When to Tell

I love to SHOW.  Maybe that's why I love graphic novels so much.  I love that you get to see all the little beats in the action such as small hand gestures and glances.  It's like watching TV.  (And I love TV.)  But you can't always so that in a picture book.

Why not? you may ask.

One answer is: Because you don't always have enough space.  It takes more time and space to show a scene than to tell about it.

Here's a short scene in SHOW mode:

Here's the same scene in TELL mode:

Both of these scenes are fine.  They both give the information that Joe is curious and maybe a
little inconsiderate of other people's property, but he wasn't trying to be mean.  The big difference for me, most of the time, is that it took me 4 pages to show the whole scene and only one page to tell it.

Sometimes you only have one page.

I also like to think of SHOW like a slo-mo button.  If there's a moment that's really important, you want to slow everything down and get into the nitty-gritty of it: the things characters say, the ways they react, their thought process.  But sometimes you need to hit the fast-forward button and move the pace along, that's when I use narrative, or rather TELL.

In MONKEY ONO, I lead with a bit of narrative:

     Monkey Ono loved beach day and making plans.

I do this in order to quickly get to the first important moment of the book, which is Monkey Ono plotting his first attempt at getting to the beach.  The plan is the important nitty-gritty moment that introduces the plot and shows the kind of character Monkey Ono is.

You might say, But Julie, isn't it important to show the reader why Monkey Ono loves the beach so much?

For me, yes and no.  I don't always care about the why.  One of the early criticisms I got for Wink the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed was "Why does he even want to go to ninja school in the first place?"  I'm sorry, I don't mean to be rude, but COME ON!  Why does Wink want to go to ninja school?  Because it's AWESOME!

That said, I was able to give a little more info on why Monkey Ono loved the beach in the end papers of the book.  I filled them with photographs of Monkey Ono having a grand old time at the beach.

You can use narrative to tell the reader about a passage of time, like in Oliver Jeffer's HOW TO CATCH A STAR.

You can use narrative if your main character doesn't speak.  In Mini Grey's TRACTION MAN, the main character is an action figure and the story reads like the boy's narration of his favorite toy's adventures.

I mentioned last week that Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie Books are pure SHOW.  Zero narration.

He can do this by having a very simple story and a book that runs 57 pages long.

I'm pretty sure that I can't get a budget for a 57 page picture book because I'm not Mo Willems.  So despite the fact that I love showing every little moment, my projects usually have to have a balance of show and tell.

There's really no right or wrong way to balance show and tell.  You have to try things, change things, look at the books you admire and analyze their balance.  You have to decide which of your moments need the slo-mo nitty-gritty time and which are moving the story along.

It's like cooking; maybe it needs a little more salt, but you won't know until you try it.

Happy writing!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Art Camp: African Exploration

Here are some scenes from my final week at summer camp.  We read a lot of African folk tales and did art projects that had some kind of tie to African culture.

(Above) This first project is always a favorite: dip-dyed paper squares that resemble a tie-dye look.  It's very simple and hard to mess up.  The kids love watching the colors mix and unfolding the paper to discovers a lovely design.

(Below)  Watercolor birds.  Last year I found this pretty painting with an African folk painting bird on it that I had the kids recreate.  It went so well I did the project again this year.

Yesterday's project had more to do with traditional African colors and patterns.

These past few weeks of camp have been a delight.  It's fun for me to interact with younger kids, and it's good for Magoo to have some job responsibilities.  We had a little structure in our days, and now we'll shift into something looser for a couple weeks until Magoo's pottery camp starts.

Since the heat wave is almost over, I won't have to get up at 5:30 to open all the windows and cook, either.  That'll be nice.

Stay cool!
Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hot Times & the Movies

I would love to show you pictures of all the fun summer times Magoo and I are having, like playing frisbee in the park or searching for bugs in the woods, but I can't.  Because we haven't done any of those things.  Because it's been SO FREAKIN' HOT!

We are currently in Day 4 of what promises to be a good long 7 day heat wave.  This is following a previous 4-day heat wave with 2 days of cool in between.

When we don't hit the local pool, we hit the theaters.

So instead of whining about the heat and humidity, I think I'll share some mini reviews of recent movies.

THE HEAT with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.  This is a female buddy cop movie.  It's pretty funny, but I didn't think it was quite as tight as Bridesmaids.  The external plot revolves around a odd couple pairing of a know-it-all, uptight FBI agent (Bullock) and a semi-crazy, no-holds-barred Boston cop, McCarthy, going after a mysterious drug kingpin.  The internal plot is about both women sacrificing personal connections in order to excel in law enforcement careers.  So basically they are both excellent cops and lonely women.  My gripe with this film would be the lonely women part.  This is never an issue with guy cop movies, is it?    Maybe they have some too.  I could probably do a whole post just comparing guy buddy movies, but I won't.  I guess I just feel that the internal struggles of the characters were slogging the movie down.  Still, it's funny enough.  
Grade: B-

WORLD WAR Z is a semi-zombie movie where Brad Pitt (an ex-United Nations super spy soldier guy - I wasn't 100% clear on what his previous job had been) saves his family from the zombie-virus rapidly spreading throughout the world only to get pulled back into government work to try to find patient zero, and a cure.  Hard-core zombie people would say that these are not zombies.  Sure.  Whatever.  They're not really called "zombies," but they are zombie-ish.  Basically, if a crazy zombie-ish person bites you, your have a seizure for 12 seconds then you, too, are zombie-ish.  So this virus-thing moves pretty fast.
I liked it.  I thought it was well plotted and things were explained pretty clearly without going into too much detail.  Lots of tension.  Good character motivations.  It lacked a certain sparkle that makes a movie fantastic, but still, I thought it was pretty good.    PS: My 10-yr old son was fine with it.  No fears.  Magoo says, "Awesome!"  
Grade: B

MUD:  I saw this about a month ago and I'm throwing it into the mix b/c it was SO SO GOOD.  It looks like it's a fugitive story in the Arkansas delta, and it is, but it's really a story about love.  See, 14-yr-old Ellis (I think he's fourteen) is a romantic at heart.  He has a crush on an older girl (I think she's 16.)  At the beginning of the movie, Ellis still believes in a fairytale kind of true love.  But he and his friend Neckbone meet a man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who's hiding out on a small island, and they agree to help him fix up a broken-down boat so he can sail away with his true love (Reese Witherspoon) once she arrives.  That's the external plot.  But through the course of the movie, Ellis notices how his parents marriage is falling apart, how his crush will seem to like him if they are alone, but won't talk to him around other teens, and how Reese Witherspoon's character may love Mud, but perhaps not enough.  Ellis's idea of love as a candy filled heart is shattered, but he learns to see it as the complicated emotion that it is.  MUD is a work of art, in my opinion.
Grade: A+

MONSTERS UNIVERSITY:  This is basically an origin story of how monsters Sully and Mike met in college and went from being rivals to best friends.  It's very cute and if you're a parent and have been to college, there's probably a lot of humor in it for you that you're kids aren't going to get.  (It was funny to me that there's a storyline about an older student returning to college in this kids film, but since he's a monster the child viewers don't care.  Okedoke.)  If you and/or your kids liked Monsters Inc, you'll like this too.  Magoo says, "It was cool."
Grade B+

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING:  If you've always wanted to like Shakespeare but you haven't been able to get into it, this may be the movie for you.  Set in the present, in director Joss Whedon's house,  Much Ado is the story of fun, frolicky love.  You have Beatrice and Benedict who are totally into each other but to stubborn to admit it.  You have Claudio who's in love with Hero, but too shy to do anything about it, so he has a friend woo her for him.   And then you have Don John an slimey dude under house arrest who stirs up as much trouble as he can to amuse himself.  This awesome thing about this movie is this: when an actor is good (which is most of the cast) even though they are speaking in Shakespeare-ese you understand everything.  There are a couple actors in the mix who's lines come out so flat it seems they don't even know they're in the movie.  Nathan Fillion's bumbling cop is FABULOUS!  This movie might not be for everyone, but I really like it.  I also love that this movie got made at all.  No explosions, zombies, vampires or robots in the whole thing.  
Grade: A-

PACIFIC RIM:  Pacific Rim is a sci-fi thriller set in the not-too-distant future where a portal that allows giant alien monsters to invade our world has opened in the Pacific Ocean.  The good news is, the aliens usually come in one at a time and we have built super giant robots (controlled by two pilots in the helmet) to fight them. The bad news - well, any city where they fight gets completely totaled - and the aliens don't ever really stop coming.  Oh, sure, you may get a week between invasions, but the big suckers keep coming and coming.  Pacific Rim is a great movie if you enjoy watching special effect robots fight special effect aliens. It's kinda like a modern, expensive Godzilla movie and it wasn't really my cup o' tea.  That said, the artistic details and production value were fabulous.
Grade: C
Magoo would probably give it an A.  He loved it. 

Stay cool, everybody!