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.


Lucia Sasaki said...

Hi Julie!
Great examples!
You have improved a lot your workshop!
Thanks for sharing!!


Mirka Breen said...

The nose images alone are worth a whole face!

Christina Farley said...

I love your examples! Picture books are daunting and it sounds like you've got a good handle on them.