Thursday, October 4, 2012

COSCBWI Sept. 2012: Show, Don't Tell!

Big apologies for my delay in posting the COSCBWI September meeting summary!  Goodness, it's been a busy few weeks!
September's meeting featured our Regional Advisor, Linda Miller.  Linda led the group in a discussion on the oh-so important topic, "Show, Don't Tell."  This is something writers hear often, but what does it mean?
Linda explained that there are many ways writers can "tell" their stories.  Common signs of "telling" include blunt prose, a lack of description, and information dumps.  For example:
Six-year-old Timmy loved sports.  He couldn't wait for his big soccer game tonight.  He wondered if he would make a goal.  He also wondered if his dad would come.  Dad often had to work a lot, and sometimes he missed important things, like Timmy's games and other after-school activities.  
Yawn.  Big yawn.
There's nothing wrong with that paragraph; it's just not very interesting, is it?  You probably wouldn't want to read an entire book written like that.  (And you can bet kids won't, either.)  
To fix this problem, Linda said to remember your action words and adjectives.  (Instead of, "he walked," perhaps use "scurried" or "raced" or "trudged.")  You can also use inferences so the reader understands information without it being shouted at them.  (i.e. "It was winter," can be inferred by writing, "The snow was falling.")  Lastly, she went over the 5 senses and how their use can help paint a more vivid picture for your reader.
When you consider the many options you have to jazz your writing up, you can rework your story accordingly.  For example:
Timmy bounced in his seat as Mrs. Brown wrote subtraction problems on the chalkboard.  He couldn't focus on math--not when he had a big game tonight!  His team, the Mighty Tigers, were on a winning streak, and sure to beat the Sunnydale Elementary Blue Jays.  The chalkboard faded as he thought back to last week's game.  He'd run across the field in a black and orange blur, scoring not one, but two goals!  Everyone cheered, and his mom shouted from the bleachers.
Timmy's stomach flipped when he remembered the empty seat beside her.  Dad had missed the game--and the two before that.  "Sorry, kiddo.  I have a big business meeting.  But I'll be there next time, I promise," Dad had said.  Timmy sighed, wondering if he would actually keep his promise this time.
The same information is conveyed that was in the first example, but now Timmy is a more developed and dimensional character.  The reader wasn't told every fact, but came to the same conclusions based on the implied information.  (i.e. The empty seat showed Dad missed the game, while the first version just told us that his Dad worked a lot.)  Before, the reader didn't feel close to Timmy or the facts about him, but now he's a character kids can relate to.  When the reader is emotionally invested in the story, they keep turning the page.  And THAT is our number one goal as writers.
Of course, you don't want to use every one of the methods at the same time to "show" instead of "tell," but peppering them in will certainly make your story shine.  Just choose the techniques that work best in your scene.  And if you're having trouble, read lots of books!  All that pretty prose from professional authors will rub off on you in no time.  :)

You can find out more about COSCBWI's upcoming events at: www.coscbwi.orgAnd don't forget: registration is now open for our October 27th Fall Workshop featuring editor Kristin Ostby and author/illustrator Lindsay Ward.  You can register at

Hope to see you at our October meeting AND Fall Workshop!

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