Brushing Up on “Show, Don’t Tell” by @marciecolleen1

Ever try to tell someone a story only to end up saying “I guess you had to be there” when they don’t respond with the emotion you want them to?

Do you want to know why that is?

It all comes down to “show, don’t tell.”

distanceTelling keeps your readers (or listeners, in this case) at a distance. Telling merely summarizes what happened in plot points. “This happened. Then this happened. Then I said this. Then I thought that. And this is how it made me feel.”

Showing, on the other hand, allows your readers (or listeners) to experience the story. Showing paints a picture. Showing draws the reader in. Showing uses description, action, and dialogue to portray how a character is thinking and feeling and therefore, builds emotion…or heart.

Sounds easy enough, right? Then why do so many of us fail to show?

In her book Writing Picture Books, Ann Whitford Paul writes, “Too often writers don’t write the most important scenes. It’s much easier to write, ‘The two friends made up’ than to write the dialogue that allows the reader to see their feelings move from hostility to understanding. Skipping an important scene is not only lazy writing, it is poor writing.”

Wow. Ouch! No one wants to be a lazy or poor writer. So how do we get better at showing?

When I write, I visualize my story as a Pixar film or a Pixar short. After all, Pixar has been lauded for its storytelling. And I can’t argue when the movie Up had me bawling—like totally ugly crying—within the first few minutes.

So let’s look at Up as an example and see how we can use it to strengthen our showing skills. If you are unfamiliar with the movie, shame on you. But we are going to be looking at a scene which happens about twelve minutes into the movie, after the ugly cry montage, in which we are shown the current world of the protagonist, Mr. Fredrickson.

First, to tell you the emotion or heart of the scene:

clockMr. Fredrickson wakes up to his alarm clock at 6am. He is all alone. While he eats breakfast he is sad. He does a little cleaning of his house and it reminds him of his wife who passed away. Mr. Fredrickson is lost without his wife. He continues his regular routines, but things seem empty without her. And now his house, the house they shared together is surrounded by construction. The house is alone, too.

Now, how does this scene show us Mr. Fredrickson’s current mood or emotion without a voiceover telling us how he feels or what he thinks?

In a movie this is easier than in a book, but this is where you need to employ some serious visualization.

Example #1

Imagine that you are watching Pixar’s version of your story. What do you see? What is the scenery? How does the scenery somehow help understand your main character?

Telling: Mr. Frederickson wakes up to his alarm clock at 6am. He is all alone.

Showing: Mr. Frederickson wakes up to his alarm clock at 6am and reaches for his glasses purposefully getting out of bed without looking at the cold, empty, “hasn’t-been-slept-on-in-months” pillow next to his.

 See how the mention of the pillow immediately illustrates the absence of his wife? And the fact that he has kept it in the bed, but not used the pillow for his own use, indicates that he is trying to make it seem like she is still there. We, therefore, get some insight into his thoughts and feelings without a voiceover telling us, “Mr. Frederickson is sad. He misses his wife.”

Example #2

Telling: While he eats breakfast he is sad.

Showing: With a sigh, Mr. Frederickson sips his coffee and wishes the empty chair across from him would have something to say. Ellie always had a story to tell at breakfast.

 Providing more information, beyond “he is sad,” breathes life into the scene. Readers are given an insight to Mr. Frederickson’s life with Ellie, while also seeing his current life without her.

Example #3

Telling: Mr. Fredrickson is lost without his wife. He continues his regular routines, but things seem empty without her.

Showing: Mr. Frederickson looked up at the sky which was dulled by the dirt and dust of the surrounding work site. “Quite a sight, huh, Ellie?” he said loud enough to be heard over the noisy construction.

 Through his speech we learn a lot about Mr. Frederickson. He goes on to refer to the house as our house and to talk to Ellie even though she isn’t there. Do not underestimate the power of what a character says to show how they feel and what they think even if they do not come right out and say it. After all, how often do we actually say “I feel ______” in real life? Often it is what we say that allows those listening to read between the lines and determine how we are feeling and what we are thinking.

So, next time you are struggling to “show, don’t tell” remember, visualize your story as if you are watching a movie version of it. For practice, watch a Pixar short. Many of them are on YouTube. First time you watch it through, state the emotions or heart of the story in “telling” language. Then, watch it a second time through, this time paying close attention to the showing that bring all of that heart to life. Who knows, practice enough times and you might make your readers ugly cry in the first few pages—I can’t think of a better goal.

ColleenM_headshotMarcie Colleen is a former classroom teacher turned children’s author. Her forthcoming books include The Super Happy Party Bears chapter book series with Macmillan/Imprint, as well as picture books The Adventure of the Penguinaut, to be published by Scholastic, and Love, Triangle, which sold at auction in a two-book deal to Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. She is a frequent presenter at conferences for the SCBWI, as well as a faculty member for Kidlit Writing School. Her educational work in children’s literature has been recognized by School Library JournalPublisher’s Weekly, and the Children’s Book Council. To learn more about Marcie, visit http://www.thisismarciecolleen.com/ or follow @MarcieColleen1 on Twitter.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Marcie’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Don’t miss your chance to get perfect attendance! Leave a comment on this post within the first 24 hours. Moderators have to approve first-time commenters, so your comment may not show up immediately.

 

#KidlitSummerSchool Week 3 begins tomorrow

Yay for Kidlit Summer School 2016!

Woo hoo! You made it through week 2 and we have more fun in store for Week 3!

As a friendly reminder, for the most successful school experience, try your best not to skip class! They’re offered Monday through Friday right here on the blog through our fabulous faculty guest bloggers. All you have to do is virtually show up here. If you subscribe to this blog, you can have the school come to you instead. And don’t forget if you’re not already subscribed, just head to the right sidebar and subscribe—it’s that easy!

Take a look at your class schedule for week 3. You’re going to learn a lot!

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As always, please help us share the love for #KidlitSummerSchool by posting about it on Twitter, FB (including in groups of writers), Pinterest, and all other forms of social media. Simply use the tag #KidlitSummerSchool wherever you post. If you want, you can copy the ready-made tweet below and paste it into your feed. Super-easy!

More HEART&HUMOR on the 3rd week of #KidlitSummerSchool with blog posts, webinars, exercises, and more! http://www.nerdychickswrite.com

Here are some ways you can get the most out of Kidlit Summer School:

  • Make sure you are on the email list! All passwords, webinar links, etc. will be sent out through email ONLY. If you are not getting emails, please click HERE to troubleshoot. Because there are so many of you, we ask that you read this carefully before contacting us about a problem. A regular weekly email will be sent out (usually on Sundays). Look for it to make sure you get it!
  • Join our Facebook Group! If you have registered for Kidlit Summer School 2016, follow this link to ask to be added if you haven’t already.
  • Participate in our Twitter #30mdares: This year, Rebecca Petruck will post prompts on Twitter and Facebook twice a week so students have the freedom to arrange group dares that suit their schedules and time zones, or do them on their own. The only “rule” is to set a timer and go without stopping for 30 minutes. You can find her on Twitter at @RebeccaPetruck.   Prompts will be posted Tuesday at 9p ET and Saturday at 10a ET. To get prompts, check the Twitter hashtag #30mdare or visit the Facebook group.Publisher’s Weekly covered Rebecca’s first experience with the #30mdare. You can read about that HERE.
  • FAQ page: Check out the pages for FAQs in the navigation bar for more information on webinars, email, and #30mdares.
  • Cafe Press: Soon our 2016 design will be ready to order from our Cafe Press store. You can have your own Kidlit Summer School uniform.😉
  • Webinars: Stay tuned — we’re still working on these.
  • New to School? If this is your first time attending Kidlit Summer School, check out our updated ABOUT page for a brief explanation of how things work!

GIVEAWAYS:


  • Perfect Attendance:
     
    Remember the blue-star-thumbperfect attendance award? You can get one for attending Kidlit Summer School! We’ll hold a drawing at the end of Summer School for people who commented on every post here on the blog within the first 24 hours of it going up. When Summer School is over, there will be a post explaining how to be entered for the drawing for the Perfect Attendance grand prize.
  • Author Giveaways: Some of our amazing authors will be sponsoring giveaways with their posts. You must comment on their post to qualify for these. Details will be at the end of each post.
  • #30mdare Giveaway: Students who complete at least five of the seven dares will be entered to win a 20-page critique and follow-up phone call from Rebecca. 

ALL PRIZES WILL BE AWARDED AT THE END OF KIDLIT SUMMER SCHOOL 2016!

Relax, enjoy your day and get those pencils sharpened because tomorrow kicks off another great week … See you in class!

The Kidlit Summer School Board of Education.

Follow us on Twitter: @dawnmyoung @kamikinard @leezaworks @marciecolleen @sudiptabq

 

 

 

 

Sign up for #KidlitSummerSchool 2016!

badge final 4x4-brighter heartIf you’ve already registered for Kidlit Summer School 2016… Hooray! You don’t need to register again, but you can still take advantage of the GIVEAWAY we are offering at the end of this post.

If you haven’t registered yet in 2016,  Just fill out the form by clicking HERE.  Regular registration is open from now until July 15 and to enjoy the benefits of the 2016 program, you should register this year even if you registered in the past. Note that this year we will not be offering late registration.

For those of you new to Kidlit Summer School – find out more about this awesome free program by checking out our updated ABOUT page. Also, if you missed last week’s great motivational posts, click on the home page and scroll down. You don’t want to miss the excellent advice from some amazing authors.

Our theme this year is Heart & Humor. The blog event will run from July 11, 2016 through August 5, 2016.  Why should you register? Well, as always, we’ve got perks for you if you do. Only registered (and pre-registered) members of Kidlit Summer School are:

  • eligible to win any giveaways or books, critiques, or other swag that we’ll be handing out during the month
  • eligible to participate in special Summer School events like webinars
  • able to access the Kidlit Summer School exercise book
  • invited to join our private Kidlit Summer School Facebook community where you can connect to other children’s book creators and lovers of kidlit

Best of all, you’ll be learning from our amazing faculty! Take a look at who you’ll be hearing from by checking out our FACULTY PAGE.

We hope we’ll see you in class!

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: All you have to do is mention where you shared this link on social media in the comments below, and you are entered in the drawing for a Kidlit Summer School 16 notebook and tote bag, even if you are already registered! One winner will be selected at the end of KLSS. 

Finding the Starting Line with @jenmalonewrites

Let’s play with an analogy today. Let’s equate Kidlit Summer School to running a 10k road race. You’ve signed up, you’re raring to get going. But of course, you won’t just show up on race day—you’ll train to build endurance. Over the upcoming steamy weeks, you’re going to pound pavement (okay, keyboards), learn tricks and tips from the pros for streamlining your techniques, and be cheered on by teammates who’ll help you dig deep for extra motivation when you need it.

And when race day comes, you’ll be cheered on from the sidelines by crowds of supporters. This is gonna be fun!

But wait. Back up just a bit. There’s a step that comes before any sweating begins, and it happens to be my favorite. You get to join the running club, shop for new springy shoes and super cute Lycra running shirts, and pencil in the training times in your calendar. You’re (literally) gearing up, building motivation, and giving yourself tools for success.

In NovelLand, we call this pre-writing… and it’s no less a part of the process than revision or drafting. It’s a time for allowing yourself to get excited and inspired. Your story is nothing but sheer possibility at this point, and you can play with abandon as you become acquainted with your characters and enter the world you’re creating for them.

It’s also a time to go from abstract to concrete, to begin zooming in closer and closer on the race map until, at last, you spot it: the starting line!

Try out any (or all) of these pre-writing activities to keep you energized while you wait for Day 1:

  1. Pinterest boards- create digital bulletin boards that help you get to know your characters (what does she look like, what would he wear, how is her room decorated), or their world (what is the scenery on his planet, how might the castle look or the monsters appear), or even one that simply evokes the mood of the story, to get you into the right frame of mind before a writing session. I’m an Author in Residence at a middle school and here’s an example one my students created when I had them do this assignment (using a similar program called Educlipper): educlipper
  1. Research the time, setting, or subject matter of your story through trips, texts, and personal interviews. I’m co-writing a novel set in the Gilded Age in Newport, RI and my co-author, Kris Asselin, and I spent a day walking the grounds of the mansion we’re using as our backdrop, snapped hundred of photos, and interviewed the caretaker at length. Since returning home, I’ve read a dozen books set in that time period and watched period dramas galore—this is hardly a hardship and I’m picking up the details that will make our descriptions as uber-rich as those high society types were.
  2. Interview your character. it can be a simple five questions or as detailed as an FBI background check, and there are tons of sample sheets online (Google: character worksheets) to get you started. Here’s a fairly basic one I have my students complete:JM image
  1. Make a timeline for your story. For my YA Wanderlost that just released and follows a teen on her own for the first time and charged with leading a senior citizen’s bus tour through Europe, I went to AAA and collected brochures for actual European bus tour itineraries so I could see how much time might be allotted at each location and which routes would be followed. Below is a snippet of the timeline I had open next to me as I wrote my 2017 YA, Changes in Latitudes, which features a girl sailing from Oregon to Mexico. The timeline ended up dictating much of the story, because I needed to know the sailing times and weather conditions between each possible port, so I could figure out where to set pivotal scenes and how to get her into place for those events. The amenities she’d have access to at each port dictated how she’d be dressed and what tasks she’d need to concern herself with at each point in the trip. Had I skipped this step, the revision process would have been intense!TL

 

  1. Draw a map of the story’s world. Even if what you’re writing is less Game of Thrones and more “takes place on one square block in NYC,” maps are incredibly useful tools and they don’t have to be fancy. This is one of my co-author Gail Nall drew for us to use while drafting the You’re Invited series, which was set on the (fictional) teeny-tiny island of Sandpiper Beach in North Carolina:sandpiper beach
  1. Create a playlist of songs that fit your story. I have a friend who blasts them on her drive home from work to get her in the world of the story, so even if you can’t write to music, it can be a helpful tool in your arsenal. This site has collected a series of authors’ playlists to give you some inspiration.
  2. Write your cover blurb. Last year during Kidlit Summer School I talked about how I always start my stories by writing the jacket flap copy.
  3. Send that blurb to friends and ask them to come up with five “what if’s” for twists and turns your story could take. People tend to underestimate how much of the book writing process relies on outside eyes and opinions to push things forward, and pre-writing is a perfect place to begin embracing that idea. You never know what jumping off points they might offer you!

So, while I’ll be cheering you all along the course (although, of course, writing is never a race. Bad Jen for even invoking this analogy!), I’m more excited to see you at the starting line, full of energy (and carbs) and wearing those cute, springy running shoes.

Have a blast gearing up!

Jen MaloneJen Malone writes fun and flirty YA travel romances with HarperCollins and humorous “girl power” MG adventures with Simon & Schuster. Her 2016 titles include The Sleepover (MG) and Wanderlost (YA).  She once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star’s tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books. You can learn more about Jen and her books at http://www.jenmalonewrites.com. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @jenmalonewrites.

 

*Thanks to Jen for this excellent idea-generating post! Today is the last day to pre-register for KLSS and the pre-registration webinar is Wednesday, June 29. Click on this link for more details.

 

What’s New at School? Free Webinar! More Posts! (+ a #Giveaway!)

badge final 4x4-brighter heartYou know how it goes, every year when school starts back up students want to know what has changed, what’s the same, and who is going to be around. Same thing happens with Kidlit Summer School, right? So we thought we’d fill you in on some exiting changes! For the first time ever, we are offering a week of PRE-Kidlit Summer School posts. For this awesome week of inspiration, five members of our KLSS Faculties from our first two years have volunteered to share their winning strategies for getting into the writing groove. Look for posts NEXT WEEK from Jen Malone, John Claude Bemis, Rebecca Petruck, Kristine Asselin, and Tara Lazar! Their wisdom will pave the way for  you to get psyched and excited about writing. Then we’ll take the week of July fourth off for these great ideas to percolate, and hit the books with enthusiasm on Monday, July 11, the first official day of Kidlit Summer School 2016!

Now … we want you to sit back and pretend you just heard the tell-tale buzz of the loudspeaker followed by the principal’s voice, because we’re about to make a big announcement:

OUR PRE-REGISTRATION WEBINAR with Editors Aimee Friedman and Caroline Abbey has been scheduled for this WEDNESDAY night, June 29 at 9:00 pm EST!

Here is a little information about our fabulous guests:

authorphotoAimee Friedman is an executive editor of middle-grade and YA fiction at Scholastic, where she has worked for fifteen years. Her projects include the New York Times bestselling middle grade series Whatever After by Sarah Mlynowski; The Secret Language of Sisters, the YA debut of New York Times bestselling adult author Luanne Rice; and of course The Boy Project and The Boy Problem by acclaimed middle-grade author Kami Kinard. Aimee is also a New York Times bestselling author of novels for young adults; her most recent book is Two Summers (Scholastic/May 2016). She lives and works in New York City. Find out more about Aimee on her website aimeefriedmanbooks.com

 caroline abbeyCaroline Abbey is a Senior Editor at Random House Children’s Books. Her publishing experience also includes serving as Senior Editor at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Hamilton College where, over the course of many writing workshops, she discovered she loved editing more than writing.  When not editing, Caroline loves drinking milkshakes and learning random facts about anything and everything. One of her forthcoming projects is a fabulous chapter book series by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen.

IF you are pre-registered for KLSS 2016, you will receive an email Sunday, June 26 with a link to a Google form where you can submit questions for Aimee and Caroline to answer. They will answer as many questions as we have time to ask in the hour long session, so if you have a burning question for a fantastic children’s book editor, take advantage of this opportunity! (If you are not pre-registered, click HERE to join the fun.)

Okay, you can put down those hands! We know you have more questions and we’re getting ready to answer them. 😉

You were probably wondering how to watch the webinar, right? Just keep an eye on your email inbox. You will receive a link that will allow the first 200 of you to join us live on Wednesday night. The email with this link should arrive on Wednesday.

What happens if you can’t join us Wednesday night or if you happen to log in after the first 200? No worries! The webinar will be recorded and all pre-registered students will receive a link via email that will allow you to watch the recording at your convenience this summer.

Next question? If you can’t watch the webinar live can you still submit a question? Yes! All pre-registered students will have an opportunity to ask a question.

Did you hear that? It’s the loudspeaker again. Time for another announcement!

This Contest had Ended. A winner will be drawn from all comments left before midnight June 27 and will be announced at the end of Kidlit Summer School. Thanks to all who helped spread the word! 

All you have to do to enter is share a link to this post on any social media platform and leave a comment about where you shared this information. We will draw a winner from the comments.

rotem-jenne-webinar-screenshot-e1437061579759 (2)

Win a free online brainstorming session!

What will the winner receive? A free 30 minute brainstorming session with KLSS Administrators Kami Kinard and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Winner will be announced at the end of summer school and will have until September 30, 2016 to schedule the session.

Don’t forget to leave a comment and share the news! See you on Monday!