Show and tell in grade school and how it helps you be a better writer!

Show and Tell

By Patti Larsen

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, percolating it in my brain. Why? Because I don’t want to rehash what you already know. I’d like to go about this topic in a different way.

I could talk to you about sensory writing and getting in touch with your character’s feelings as they tie to actions. About dialogue and how it connects the reader to the character. But I’m feeling metaphorish. So bear with me.

Let’s instead put it into a real world situation, shall we? One all of us were familiar with many moons ago (okay, many moons for me) when, in grade school, we were asked to bring something to class for–you guessed it–show and tell.

Now, the best showers and tellers had killer items that you’d never seen before (like their dad’s vintage tie it turned out he actually still wore or the puzzle your grandmother gave you to keep you quiet on Sundays). But we need to break it down even further to see the heart of it.

There were always three kids of kids in class: the ramblers who knew every last thing about their item and went on and on forever. The silent types who mumbled a few words about their item before dropping it and (typically) breaking it. And the kid who (gasp) forgot his item. But we’ll get to him later.

I erred. There was a fourth type. The storytellers who captivated us over something as silly as a tie.

Okay. Shall we look at our kids assembled before us? First up, kid type number one. Hmmm. He seems to talk too much (excessive language/large paragraphs of unneeded information/rambling). So he does some showing perhaps, but too much telling/explaining. TOO MUCH. So much in fact the listener (reader) starts to drift (skim) until the presenter (writer) gets to the good parts (yup, good parts). Sadly, it never happens. The kid runs out of wind, wanders all over the place without a plan and ends up lost and babbling. The listener (reader) forgets all about the item (story), just embarrassed for the poor kid (writer).

Now, to kid type number two. This tyke is so nervous about sharing, he can barely speak. Every word he says is trembling and hesitant. The explanation is sparse and jerky (writing is bare) and told in monotone without emotion other than anxiety (telling despite the fact the story is right there in front of the reader. Not enough information for an emotional connection. Feels too detached and fragile to entertain). In the end the item shatters (the book/story/writing falls apart without any support) and the kid is forced to kick the pieces to the side and sit down.

Let’s have a peek at kid number three before we touch on our golden child. This particular lad has forgotten to bring his item all together (no story really to speak of) and tries to explain with hand gestures (telling at its finest to try to cover the fact there is no story) and descriptions (more reader skimming while searching for the story, the emotions, anything to keep their interest) but without the item (story) to show, the audience has no context. Even the finest tellers (and there are some, don’t get me wrong) can lose their audience quickly because of lack of emotional connection and/or confusion on what the story is about.

Just try telling a joke that requires a prop you don’t have. You’ll see.

Finally, we get to little student number four. She is polished and shining, her item in her hand, smile confident and looking very professional (a good cover will do that for you). Everyone pays attention when she begins. She has a plan, a story that covers the beginning, middle and ending about her item. She has practiced (actively edited) her presentation. She includes a great deal of sensory description, dialogue, uses the item (story) actively, as if it is a play. Makes it a performance. Something real and tangible that could or has really happened.

And in the end, she alone gets the thunderous applause.

About the Author: Patti Larsen is a middle grade, young adult and adult author with a passion for paranormal who writes way too much horror for someone who is afraid of the dark. She lives, eats and breathes writing, and teaches others how to do the same through her Get Your Book Done program. She lives on the East Coast of Canada with her very patient husband and four massive cats.

You can find her at:


Her writing blog:

Her book blog:

Her website:

On Facebook:

On Twitter:!/PattiLarsen


Her books are available on Smashwords and


One comment on “Show and tell in grade school and how it helps you be a better writer!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s