How many times have you heard show don’t tell?
In theory, it’s a simple matter. In practice, it’s difficult to execute.
Being from the Show Me state, I guess this was a natural fit for me. I remember in grade school when I had to give a verbal book report. We were required to make a paper mache puppet for the main character and then act out a specific part of the story. This was in third grade, so keep that in mind.
My story: The Three Little Pigs.
Always the overacheiver, I couldn’t seperate my main characters. I’ve always had a passion for arts and crafts, so I made a cast of characters from paper mache. They were pitiful! Three pigs, formed around small balloons, one had spots, one was pink, and one had a bowtie. I don’t know, I was a kid. Who knows what goes through the mind of a third grader, right?
Then there was the wolf – the antagonist. DUN DUN DUN! Paper mache was formed around a lightbulb sized balloon. It had a snout, gnarly teeth, and big ears. I spent a lot of time getting this right. All the other kids had one puppet, and I had four – bwahahahaha! The teacher was not amused.
The next day, we got to paint them. It was simple to paint the pigs. I’m pretty sure we used tempera paints not the nice acrylics that are available now. Then I began painting my wolf. Even as a child I was dramatic and my wolf was the baddest baddie in the whole land. His teeth were pearly white, with blood dripping down his jaw. I stuck a patch of fake fur from the top of his head down the back which attached to the simple fake fur clothes. (We had to make a draw string dress, arms if your character required it.) My pigs were glued to popsicle sticks. My wolf was the focus.
I gathered my props for presentation: a bit of straw, a bit of clay and mud, and small pieces of bricks, then a cardboard setting colored with crayon because – we were third graders and we didn’t have markers. Finally, it was my turn.
My older brothers were into film making at the time, and had recently filmed a “werewolf film” where I was one of the victims. Chicken livers are great for special effects as well as homemade fake blood. Be careful what you expose your grade schoolers to, they remember everything. Stuck in the palm of my hand were small packets of karo syrup and food dye aka fake blood. The first little pig put up a little fight, then suffered a brutal bloody demise. The teacher gasped. The student’s eyes were riveted.
The second pig, being a little smarter than the first, argued for a bit then fled to his oldest brothers home, but not without suffering a few nips along the way.
I embellished the story, adding a colorful twist when the hunters came and shot the wolf. It was a horrific bloody death. It was graphic, descriptive, and left my teacher white faced and wide eyed. I recall some sort of note being pinned to my shirt when I went home.
The art of good storytelling is in the telling, not the story. It would have been simple to repeat the words in the book. It would have been easy to say: The big bad wolf blew down the house of straw, the house of mud and clay, but he couldn’t blow down the third pig’s home.
The point is, showing is much better than telling. I could have simply told you that as a grade schooler I was required to give a verbal book report for The Three Little Pigs and that I tried my best but the teacher was not amused. However, I chose to paint you a word picture, describing the key points and the audience reaction.
Tomorrow, I address showing the crush. Whaaaaat?
Can you think of a time when you knew you were guilty of “telling” and another instance where you nailed the scene by “Showing”?
Please leave your comments below and write on my friends, write on!