March 23, 2009

Should I Tell or Should I Show?

Ah, the age-old struggle for a writer. We hear it at every conference - "show, don't tell" - the mantra for a picture book writer. This was a hot topic yesterday at my new critique group (all of whom are great and provided valuable input - thanks!). The topic was also accompanied by a lot of laughter as we struggled to define what was "too much telling" and what was "not enough". The group challenged some of us to delete entire paragraphs with too much "showing". Even entire characters in the manuscripts got the axe yesterday. Some in the group, as a result of lots of workshops, honed their manuscripts to the essentials. We were very proud of them - but now they needed to revise - and add a few details to help the reader along! The "show, don't tell" policy is applied uniquely for picture book vs. novel. The picture book writer needs to leave room for the illustrator. Excessive detail (she wore pearls, a hat with a feather and a pink, ruffled party dress) does not leave the illustrator with many creative options. How about, "She was properly accessorized and ready for a fancy party"? The novel writer is challenged to organically weave the description in the dialogue or through action. Information-dumping is definitely frowned upon. The MG or YA reader needs to learn naturally about the characters. A critique group can be a valuable tool in this process (and as we learned yesterday, it can even be fun!) as we weave our way through this maze as children's writers.

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