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MOWMT Day #4: S.K. Wenger Explores Show and Tell

by S. K. Wenger

Show, don’t tell.

At one time or another, writers hear this familiar guideline given as advice for a manuscript. It often refers to avoidance of the use of passive verbs or the need for honing in on a more specific word choice.

For example, consider this sentence. The giraffe went to the playground.

It is telling information.

Could it be enhanced with details that show how the giraffe went? Could that specific word choice also convey a character trait, conflict, or emotion?


Depending on its placement in the narrative, a more “showing” or fitting option might be:

The giraffe skipped to the playground.

Or: The giraffe trudged to the playground.

Could the emotional experience of the sentence be amplified further by the specificity of a character’s name?

Check it out: Kip skipped to the playground.

Or: Eeyore trudged.

One is happy. The other is not. And the names of the characters imply emotional connotations when paired with their vivid verbs. Furthermore, depending on how the story is narrated, the type of animal may not even be needed to be denoted in the text, since an illustrator could depict either a giraffe or a donkey. Thus, picture book illustrations allow a writer to experiment with even the tiniest of details, like names.

The text of Big Truck Playdate, written by Laurie Carmody and illustrated by Jessica Lounsbury (Beaming Books 2023), sings with intentional word choice which clearly reflect the mind-set of the main character.

One day, after dropping off his last delivery, Corey heard his favorite sound. Honk!

His tires squealed.

His heart revved.

His eyes blink-blink-blinked.

It was a turbo-charged semi-truck!

Little Red and the Big Bad Editor, written by Rebecca Kraft Rector and illustrated by Shanda McCloskey (Aladdin 2022) also serves as an excellent example of the pay-off for effective word choices which allow young readers to immediately connect with Little Red’s excitement.

Little Red was pleased as punch. Granny had sent her a present!

Red ripped off the wrappings and removed a cape as scarlet as a ripe tomato.

She scribbled a thank-you note to Granny.

Her class hadn’t learned letter-writing yet, but that didn’t stop Little Red.

Character traits can also be shown through dialogue. In my own Chicken Frank, Dinosaur!, a comic-style picture book illustrated by Jojo Ensslin (Albert Whitman 2021) readers are introduced to Frank’s quirky quest and his antagonist’s frustration with him in the first pages.

Addie: What’s that?

Frank: A DNA test! To find another dinosaur like me!

Addie: Can’t you act like a normal chicken?

However, as seen in the examples above, the guideline of SHOW, DON’T TELL can and should be bent in order to allow room for the reader to pay attention to the details that matter.

It’s NOT always the details that are “shown” with descriptive words or verbs which are important. Sometimes, well-placed prose that TELLS information can draw attention to a story’s pivotal elements.

In fact, the art of telling can help establish narrative voice. Both approaches—SHOWING AND TELLING—are used in Beth Ferry’s Caveboy Crush, illustrated by Joseph Kuefler (Abrams Books for Young Readers 2019).

Neander was a typical caveboy.

He loved drawing on walls.

He loved chasing mammoth butterflies.

He loved his pet rock, Rock.

He also loved catching fish, which was exactly what he was doing when he caught . . .

a glimpse of the most beautiful girl in the prehistoric world.

She was short.

She was hairy.

She was perfect.

Different stories demand different elements in order to bring the best experience to readers. To recap, those elements might include the following:

1) strong verbs;

2) descriptive words that convey vivid imagery, emotion, or conflict;

3) passive verbs when those beats are needed; and

4) pertinent dialogue.

Some picture books use all of these elements and when combined with illustrations, the effect is particularly powerful and immersive.

Three books that use a mix of all four elements are Arnold the Super-ish Hero written by Heather Tekavec and illustrated by Guillaume Perreault (Kids Can Press 2021), Hornswoggled! written by Josh Crute and illustrated by Jenn Harney (Page Street Kids 2021) and Sweety by Andrea Zuill (Swartz and Wade 2019).

As seen with the “Show, Don’t Tell” adage, any rule in writing is more or less a guideline. Have fun mixing it up as you create your story, one that gives young readers a way to step in and then, a desire to stay.

Today’s blog post prize is a critique from S. K. Wenger for one PB manuscript in any format up to 800 words.

Shaunda Wenger, writing as S. K. Wenger, is the author of the humorous STEM picture book, Chicken Frank, Dinosaur! illustrated by Jojo Ensslin (Albert Whitman 2021), five leveled-readers in the educational market (Benchmark Education / Richard C. Owen, Publisher), and poems that have appeared in Babybug, Cricket, and Miracles of Motherhood (a June Cotner anthology/Center Street). With degrees in science and numerous adventures in the outdoors Shaunda loves weaving tidbits of the natural world into her middle grade and picture book stories and feels extra sparkly when they pivot on humor.

Connect with Shaunda and learn more about her creative work and services at:

Twitter: @SKWenger

Instagram: skwenger_books

Post: @skwenger


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