Monday, July 15, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #22: Show and Tell, Part 1

One of the first lessons you learn as a writer is the difference between showing and telling, or rather showing a scene as it happens, or telling about it in narration.

I have also heard that it is preferable to show, rather than tell.  But honestly, I think that is too simple a rule.  Because the truth is it depends.  If a character has discovered that her teddy bear was stolen and concocts a plan to revel the thief and then little sister walks in and says, "Whatcha doing?" a writer doesn't want to then show a scene where the big sister fills the little sister in.  It's boring.  That's a perfect tell moment, if you ask me.

But I digress ...

SHOW AND TELL is a fairly complex concept when you think about it.
1. A writer needs to understand what it is.
2. A writer needs to know when to show and when to tell.
3. A writer needs to know how to show and how to tell.

This is too much to cover in one blog post, so let's just start with #1.  What is the difference between SHOW and TELL.

When you TELL something, you're narrating the scene.  The writer/reader is on the outside of it looking in.

When you SHOW something, you're in the scene.  It's all happening right there.  Action for action, word for word.

In picture book writing, I think there's usually a higher percentage of SHOW because, come on, reading funny voices is way more fun.  Right?  Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie books are 100% show.  There isn't a stitch of narration in the things.

But then there's Oliver Jeffers' Lost and Found ...

It's 100% tell.  BUT, and this is an important but  (I said butt, he he) when you're writing a picture book, the illustrations will SHOW even if the words TELL.

In Monkey Ono, I do a little bit of both.  This first spread is SHOW.  We're in the scene as it's happening:

Then I TELL the reader the outcome.

Therein lies the first lesson, WHAT IS SHOW and TELL.  Next week I'll talk more about when you might choose to tell rather than show and vice versa.

In other news, I've been invited to participate in an exciting event:

Every year the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon on the Green brings a bunch of authors together for a big, swanky book signing fund-raiser.  (At least I think it's swanky.  It sounds swanky.  Maybe swank-lite.)

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be included along side Rebecca Stead (Liar & Spy), Giselle Potter (Cecil the Pet Glacier), Jeff Mack (Good News, Bad News) and the others!  I already have my dress picked out! (Swank-lite.)

The main fund raiser starts at 6pm, which includes all kinds of books, but this year they're doing a special early kids' signing from 4:30-5:30.  So if you're near the North-West part of Connecticut on Friday, Aug 2nd and you LOVE books, you totally want to check it out!

 For more info, click here.


Mirka Breen said...

Fabulous distinction. Yes, the art is supposed to do a whole lot of SHOWING, something too many PB writers and critiquers plum forget when reading a text-only manuscript.

Leandra Wallace said...

Monkey Ono is just the cutest! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it the other day at work. Now if I could just remember to bring it home, the kidlet could enjoy it too! =)

Julie_c said...

Mirka, I know exactly what you mean.

Leandra, thanks so much!!! I'm so glad you liked it!

Anonymous said...

Excellent explanation. Show vs. tell is a fine art. Love your examples, too.

Lucia Sasaki said...

Hi Julie!
Thanks for more this enlightining installment.
Great and very well explained your distinction between show and tell.
I liked when you show other books and authors that I don't know.

I hope that the library event is going to be very fun.

Thanks again!


Julie_c said...

Laura and Lucia - Thanks so much!