by Melissa Stoller
I recently enjoyed the revival of My Fair Lady on Broadway. One of my favorite songs from the musical is “Show Me.”
In the musical, Eliza Doolittle sings:
Words Words Words
I'm so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do
Don't talk of stars
If you're in love
I thought about the song’s lyrics in terms of the picture book writing guideline, “Show, don’t tell.” As Eliza Doolittle said, “Show me.” Authors must show the reader emotion and action with our words and illustrators bring those scenes to life with artwork. We never want to simply “tell” the reader what’s happening or provide an information dump. Sounds easy, but sometimes it’s hard to put into practice. I always go back during the revision process and examine every word and phrase of my manuscript to make sure I’m showing all the elements of the story and also creating moments to illustrate. For example, I try not to use the words “is,” “are,” and “was” as they often tell how someone feels, such as “She was sad.” Instead, I might write, “Shoulders slumping, she sighed and brushed away a tear.” Also, using lyrical and poetic language can show what you mean. So for example, instead of “She felt sick,” try “Her tummy bounced up and down like a roller-coaster and her throat burned like a firecracker.” Showing encourages the reader to connect and continue the story’s journey.
Here are three examples of recent picture books where the author executed the “show, don’t tell” rule.
1) “Grandpa’s eyes light up. ‘We’d just come back from picking blackberries along the muddy banks of the creek. Our berry-splattered faces gave Aunt Nelle’s cow such a fright, she didn’t make milk for days.’”
The Remember Balloons, Written by Jessie Oliveros, Illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte (by showing Grandpa’s bright eyes and the reaction of the cow, Grandpa’s memories come alive).
2) “When showers fill streams and shoots spring up, we say otsaliheliga . . . .“
We Are Grateful – Otsaliheliga, by Traci Sorell, Illustrated by Frané Lessac (the author uses imagery to portray springtime).
3) “What’s the racket?” Kuda asked. Rabbit’s foot thumpity thumped to the beat.”
Rock & Roll Woods, Written by Sherry Howard, Illustrated by Anika A. Wolf (the author uses onomatopoeia and alliteration, showing the reader a musical beat in this line).
And in my debut picture book, to show Scarlet’s anger I wrote,
“’Grrr, those are the clouds and stars outside my window.’ Scarlet stomped to her room.”
Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, Written by Melissa Stoller, Illustrated by Sandie Sonke.
* * *
Next time you’re writing or revising your picture book manuscript, use active words, convey emotion and/or humor, depict movement, and “show, don’t tell.” And next time you see My Fair Lady, think of the song “Show Me” in terms of this picture book rule!
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and Spring 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant and Blogger for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous debut author/illustrator Maggie Brown.
And 5th Mondays will feature a surprise reprise from over nine years of archives.