Show, Don’t Tell

This afternoon, somewhere in the midst of end-of-school-year mayhem and baseball season fatigue, I had an epiphany.  I’m not even quite sure what to do with it yet, and honestly, it scares me a little.  Writing picture books is very VERY different than telling stories.  We tell stories all the time in my house.  There’s a series about ‘Bob the silly dragon’ that’s five years running. These get told every nap time or in the event of an extended potty stay. (Parents of current or former toddlers know exactly what I’m talking about.)  There’s a game we play often at the supper table, putting ourselves into our favorite fairy tales and telling them from a different perspective.  Sometimes on road trips, we take turns adding sentences to a story that becomes a family affair.  To be clear, I did not get into picture book writing because I thought it would be easy, or I thought that our silly little dragon would make me rich and famous.  But I did think that the two were similar, and though they are in some ways, they are not in many more.

The concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ confuses me.  I thought I knew what it meant. I thought I understood the concept, but with every critique I receive, I’m realizing how wrong I was.  As I try to find the balance between using great words, but only a few of them, I realize that I need to figure out how to tell a story without ‘showing’ much of it.  I’ve learned that adverbs should be used carefully, and prepositional phrases are almost never needed. I know that I shouldn’t say anything that can be shown in illustrations, except that this is such a vague and hypothetical concept for me, and therefore a struggle.  I have a good story.  I know how to tell my story using my spoken words and do it justice.  I’m struggling with how to tell it in written words, and as few as possible to boot.  I’m struggling to hang on to my voice and untangle the knot of words I’m hanging on to.  I think I’m on the cusp of something really good, and for lack of any other obvious, next-step options, it’s time to make a dummy.

Here’s my homework from a long forgotten webinar:

  1. Use 8 pieces of paper, cut in half and staple
  2. Number 1-32, and starting on page 5 or 6 (different schools of thought here) put your words on the page.

That’s it.  I’ve been avoiding it like a stack of unpaid bills.  You know, the kind of things you know better than to procrastinate on, but for some reason NOT doing it seems easier.  I could do it now, but I also have real work I could do too… or laundry… hell, it’s 9:30 pm, I could also sleep…

…I did it. I walked away from my computer and started on my dummy, slept a bit and now I’m back.  Honestly, I’m a little obsessed and outdone with myself for allowing my manuscript to stall for so long.  I can see things in the dummy that I couldn’t in a Word document. One thing many people don’t know is that I almost always carry one of my WIPs with me.  In my purse, or in my car you’re certain to find a manuscript or two.  Now that I have a dummy, you may find Him buckled into the passenger seat. Stay tuned for more of my ‘lessons from a dummy’.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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