Thursday, October 4, 2012

Show and Tell, but Opposite by Richard S. Keller

Today I'm pleased to introduce a writer from Northern Colorado, a fellow member of Northern Colorado Writers. Richard S. Keller has completed a novel, a worthy accomplishment on its own, and is searching for an agent.

A professional writer for 26 years, with experience in magazine, newspaper, and online publications, Rich is the author of over 700 articles in five international websites, four magazines and two newspapers.

Not one to slack off while he waits for query responses, Rich recently completed and published Cat on a Leash, a romantic comedy short story at Smashwords.

I've been a fan of Rich's sense of humor for some time, so I invited him to bring us one of his entertaining blog posts.

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Show and Tell, but Opposite by Richard S. Keller 


Back when I was a child, sometime after the Earth cooled, the practice of Show and Tell was an important part of the education curriculum from preschool to about senior year. Unlike today’s version of the activity - a brief summary of what a student brings in, followed by classmate questioning so intense it makes Wolf Blitzer cringe – the Show and Tell of prehistoric days was a simpler affair involving a short glimpse of the toy, book, or dead bird brought into class, accompanied by a lengthy diatribe on its history and features. The reaction from an audience of peers would be a collective glazed look or, when the supposed dead bird woke up and began pecking everyone, mass hysteria.

It also cemented a practice the future writers inside of us would find hard to shake in later years – talking rather than showing. As most of us have learned through classes, conferences, and people who call us names on the Internet, our compositions need to show the readers what’s happening rather than tell them. In other words, we need to keep our traps shut as narrators and let the actions we put on virtual paper speak for themselves.

While it seems simple, as everything from boiling water to splitting an atom tends to be, the concept is difficult to process after being fed a steady diet of exposition throughout our years of primary and secondary education. Dust the cobwebs off of your memories and ask yourself how many times your teachers asked you to write a paper telling them about a particular person, place or thing. We rarely showed anything in these reports. Hence, the reason why most five-page papers were written in overly large script and ended with a few verses of Don’t Stop Belevin' or the theme to Facts of Life.

This method continued while moving through the ranks of middle and high school. As the reports got larger your brain adapted to the production of voluminous prose without showing a darn thing. The thesaurus became a friend, providing multi-syllabic words taking up two lines. Points made in one paragraph were reiterated in the others below it, albeit with slightly different wording.

By the time you reached the ivy and beer-stained halls of higher education you were an expert at this form of narration. It was of particular usefulness when it came time to fill those two blue books during final exams. There was so much manure penned in these editions that farmers waited outside of classrooms to use the written material for fertilizer.

All of this prolific prose gave you the false sense of being the greatest writer this side of Charlie Sheen. However, after rejections of your stories and novels began to fill the mailbox, second thoughts emerged on how good your writing was. Of course you blamed the usual culprits for your predicament – parents, society, government, Charlie Sheen - but it didn’t provide any solace or solution to your dilemma. It took an evening overdosing on Double Stuff Oreos and Red Bull to realize your problem was related to one thing – Show and Tell.

What does all of this divulge to us, other than Double Stuff Oreos and Red Bull cause epiphanies? That you gain writing skills from the time you first pick up a crayon? That you need to make sure the bird is dead before bringing it into Show and Tell? That putting monkey bars on a concrete playground is a very bad idea? The answer is all of the above, and more.

In closing, let me impart some wisdom to the five of you who read this article. If you have a child of Show and Tell age who aspires to be a world-famous writer, make sure they don’t say a word to their classmates when they bring the plain, brown box in for display. Just show it, and let his or her peers’ imaginations run wild. Years later, when you’re enjoying dinner on the 50-foot yacht they bought with the money from their best-selling novel, they’ll thank you.

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Thanks bunches, Rich, for your guest post.  As always, you entertain magnificently.

To learn lots more about Rich and his writing adventures, visit his website and his blog, Richie on Writing. He can also be found on Twitter.

15 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That was hilarious! Thanks for the laugh, Richard.

Angela Brown said...

Now that I've wiped away my tears brought on by laughter, I can say that - hilarity aside - there's entirely too much truth in these words.

Until I took writing seriously, I know I was a show and teller. That's what we were taught, what had been ingrained in our minds. But I've since grown a little bit more, albeit, I have a heckuva lot more writing growing to do.

Thanks, Richard, for the excellent delivery and thanks to Patricia for having you here :-)

Rusty Webb said...

That was awesome. Showing and telling comes up all the time. I heard an interview with Brandon Sanderson where he said after the sin of too much 'telling' the next biggest snafu he sees from fledgling writers is too much 'showing.' Maybe we should make the advice to just 'be more interesting.'

Dean K Miller said...

Rich: thanks for tellin me about all of this. I'm much less confused about life, but still wander aimlessly with the written word.

Someone, (Frampton?)please show me the way!

Pat: thanks for hosting Rich. Maybe now he'll quite bothering me.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

LOL!
He's so right though. We're taught to tell.

Margot Kinberg said...

Pat - Thanks for hosting Rich.

Rich - What a terrific post! It's funny and yet so wise. We're all programmed to tell and it takes de-progamming to teach us to show....

Donna Volkenannt said...

Lots of warmth, wisdom, and wit in this post.

But I think more than five people have read it.

LD Masterson said...

Great post. We really have been conditioned to tell rather than show.

Rich - You're the one who brought the not-quite-dead bird to school, aren't you?

Lynn Proctor said...

wow i really enjoyed your guest today--such an insight into creativity and you know, that thing about the jungle gym--sounds like a great title in there :)

RichardK said...

Thanks for all of your lovely comments. My ego is now so inflated it's oozing out of my ears.

LD, I can't recall if I brought in a dead bird for Show and Tell. I was raised in North Jersey, so it could've been a dead mobster.

Lynn, hmmm, you might have something there about monkey bars on a concrete playground.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Rich, thanks so much for this guest post. You're a hit! I hope you'll come back and visit us again from time to time.

Tammy Theriault said...

Loved it! I will be checking out his blog.

Arlee Bird said...

This is certainly a differently way of approaching an old topic.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Patrick Sean Lee said...

Thanks so much Rich! And thank you as well, Patricia.

Brain, did you hear that?

In creative writing courses back in school, we were advised to create a "toolbox". Inside that imaginary box were the beast called outline, the flashcards with character descriptions that listed every feature down to the moles in unmentionable places (well, what is not mentionable in today's fiction?), the slippery snake called tension, another little box containing something called story arc...and also a rat that somehow refused to be caught called Show. Sigh. It's like a juggling act!

I'm tempted in the future to simply begin my new works, "Once upon a time there was..." :)

Jane Louise Boursaw said...

Maybe that's why I don't like to give talks or show up in high school classes and tell people what I do. I'd rather show. Which means I basically sit here at my computer day after day showing people what I do. Whatever works, right?