What’s all this about “Show Don’t Tell?”

PictureWatch out for exclamatory cows!

Writers are admonished to “show don’t tell” all the time. I’ve heard that concept described more ways than there are changes in the weather where I live. But this quick description from the Institute of Children’s Literature RX really sunk in:  

Show don’t tell involves more than images…it is about immediacy. Whenever you’re revealing action right in the moment, you are showing and that’s definitely a big part of picture books. The IMAGES are the gift of the illustrator but there is far more to a picture book and far more to showing than visuals.

Picture books and beginning readers are a mix of
showing and  telling just like all the other forms of writing…they just leave out the visuals because someone else carries that burden. 

Any time you are portraying a specific moment of story time, you are showing. When you talk in generalizations, you are most often telling.

Insert comment from Carrie: “Oh! It is really that simple?”

Fast forward to May 27, 2020 and I’m updating this timeless post with a new short video by picture book author and creator of the 12 x 12 Program, Julie Hedlund. The video is about how to tell the difference between showing and telling, and the role of telling in picture books. Julie has a way of cutting to the important stuff and this video will help solidify Show and Tell concepts. Go ahead and check it out. I’ll wait…

Hi! Are you back? Here’s one more example of showing and telling:

As with ANY story, picture books are a mix…For instance (from WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE), “The night Max wore his wolf suit [showing, specific story moment, it wasn’t just any night…it was the specific night when he wore his wolf suit…] and made mischief of one kind and another [telling, we back away and generalize the badness by  compressing time with a generalization], his mother called him “Wild Thing!” [showing, specific moment where his mother spoke] and Max said “I’ll eat you up!” [showing, specific moment when Max spoke] so he was sent to bed without eating anything [telling as it compresses time by not giving us the quote where the mom actually spoke and sent him to bed without supper]

Hope this helps you think about showing and telling and how each are needed in picture books.