I still remember Show and Tell from my elementary school days. For those of you who missed it, we brought to class something we liked—a book, a picture of our dog, our hamster might make a live appearance, it didn’t matter really, just something we liked. We would then tell our classmates what we liked about it—sort of like live Facebook.
The purpose of Show and Tell (it was voluntary where I went to school) was to acquaint us with what it took to stand up and articulate our values by telling a story. Later in our education, this turned into essay writing. The lesson value and style remained the same—we were telling our audience about something that hopefully held some bit of interest for us.
Some of us with a latent talent were encouraged to think about becoming a writer or developing that talent. But, unless on the collegiate level we took creative writing, how we wrote remained the same—telling our readers something. It wasn’t until that creative writing course that we were instructed to quit telling and start showing our readers the story we want them to see and feel.
Show don’t tell, became to watchword. After a lifetime of being taught to tell, we were told to suddenly stop. It’s not easy. Try it, show me Jane walking across the room, and make me “see” the action in my mind. It’s a skill I am still working on. I get excited when I hear people reading my books or listening to them narrated say, “it’s like I was right there,” or “It’s like watching a movie.”
A light came on for me when the release of Tracks coincided with the arrival of some manuscripts at House of Honor Books. I spent some time, and more than a few words, explaining my approach to Bigfoot storytelling and the current state of the recounting of Bigfoot stories. Sasquatchers with an experience want to tell it and that left me a bit dry. What I unconsciously was doing with Tracks was trying to show an encounter so it looks and sounds different.
Now, just when I may be reaching the elementary level at showing, comes my first real stab at nonfiction and trying to tell people something. Getting readers to see my point is different than getting them to see Jane walk across the room. I don’t have to persuade them Jane walked or that the trip was necessary to the story, but that Jane’s stroll is important to them.
I guess when May rolls around we’ll see how I fared. But, that’s not the point I wish to make. As a publisher and fellow scribbler, I want to advise new writers that this show don’t tell thing has supreme merit, learn it, practice it, live it. It is the skill that will take to the professional level.