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Slide Notes

What does "Show, Don't Tell" mean? Why do writers love to say it so much?

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Show Don't Tell

Published on Nov 18, 2015

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PRESENTATION OUTLINE

SHOW, DON'T TELL

drafting THE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS ESSAY
What does "Show, Don't Tell" mean? Why do writers love to say it so much?

For more great tips, head to http://www.essayhell.com/
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THE anecdote

AN ILLUSTRATIVE MOMENT
These sorts of essays are best told with anecdotes to "show" the attributes about yourself you'd most like to highlight.
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not

"I AM A CREATIVE PERSON"
A common pitfall? Essays that "tell" the reader about who you think you are. Telling me you're creative doesn't prove it. You need to show me.

BUT... i created

SCULPTURES OUT OF MOM's cookie DOUGH
Much better! What you want to do is to provide an anecdote that gets your reading thinking, "Wow. What a creative person!"
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provide history

HOW & WHY THIS HAPPENED
Once you've got your anecdote, you will also need to provide the background information that contextualizes your story.
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Untitled Slide

Charlie Brown says it all... don't you think?
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trauma

NOT NECESSARY
And yet, I get a lot of students who worry that they've not had anything really note-worthy (or tragic) happen to them. Not necessary!
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Problems such as...

  • Challenge
  • Failure
  • Obstacle
  • Mistake
  • Hang-up
All of us have faced these problems...
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Or maybe

  • Issue
  • A change
  • Dilemna
  • Fears
  • Obsessions
... and these...
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Frizzy Hair

I have frizzy hair. This is not an earth-shattering issue, obviously. But it's part of who I am. My hair is untameable. Could I fashion an essay out of this? I've learned to embrace my giant head of hair... is there a metaphor there?
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big feet

Maybe you have big feet. I'm sure you have stories to tell. Where might a story about having big feet take us?
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CRAZY UNCLE

You know how some people say mental illness runs in the family? Well, maybe in your family it's a stampede. I bet your crazy Uncle has taught you a thing or two... maybe not on purpose, but all the same...

BAD SPELLER

Being a bad speller carries with it it's own set of challenges and delights. (I'm thinking of a student who wrote that he wanted to be a collage coach when he meant college... so funny.) But I bet you could find a metaphor for the larger meaning of what bad spellers have in common, must face, or must overcome.
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OCD

So maybe you're OCD. Aren't there some good aspects to that? What would make someone who is OCD a valuable student?

DESCRIBE a TIME

YOU EXPERIENCED THE PROBLEM
So, whatever your THING is, don't just generalize about it. Write about a specific incident relating to that THING. What is a time you experienced the problem?
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it all started when

I SIGNED UP FOR THE ADVANCED GYMNASTICS CLASS
I'm thinking about the time I moved from New Orleans to Northern California. Back in Nawlins, I'd been in the advanced gymnastics class... which meant we could do forward rolls and were learning the back somersault. I soon found out in NoCal that advanced was... way more advanced. Kids were doing back handsprings without help, aerial cartwheels, and more.
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How did you

DEAL WITH THAT PROBLEM?
Instead of calling a halt to the madness and leaving the class, I- a particularly foolhardy and stubborn 7 year old- plunged in and tried it all. I landed on my back in the back handspring (all back, no spring) and my face in the aerial cartwheel... both sides. The kids all laughed, which only made me try harder. And fall harder. The teacher took pity and asked if I could do a back somersault. "Of course," I said to peals of laughter. When I tried it, though, I got stuck halfway round. The teacher came over and tried to help push me through. The effort I exerted caused me to pass gas in her face. Nobody noticed that I eventually did complete the tumble.

How did it

MAKE YOU FEEL?
I wanted to die. Instead, I mustered some sort of bruised dignity and marched out of the class without a word. I sat waiting on the curb for my mom to come get me. I told her I was over gymnastics but did not tell her why. For years, I couldn't even watch gymnastics on the Olympics without feeling a little uneasy after that day.
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what did you

LEARN FROM ALL OF THIS... ABOUT YOU, ABOUT LIFE?
But as I look back now at that kid, I'm super proud of her. When I face challenges now as an adult, I'm pretty quick to cry "uncle" and quit before giving it a go. I love that Young Me had the guts to try it. The guts to fly and flop and land on her face. There are times now when I think I might need to invoke that fierceness.
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how will you

USE WHAT YOU LEARNED?
It's especially important now as a teacher that I model the fierceness of Young Me. I want my students to try new things, to invoke what I love to call a "pioneering spirit"... so I must show that in myself. And I do. I'm always trying new things. I still act on stage. I improvise. I take risks.
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The middle

A VERY GOOD PLACE TO START
OK. So you get the idea. The next problem students have? "I don't know how to start." Start writing in the middle. Start with the most vivid scene. You can always go back and fill in background information and an ending later.
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Be Sense-ible

WHAT DO YOU SEE, HEAR, FEEL, SMELL, TASTE?
Stuck and can't write anymore? Turn to your senses. Take yourself back to the time and remember the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feel of the place.

use the 5 w's

WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHY, WHEN (AND HOW)
Still stuck? Think like a journalist. Cover the w's and the h. Go from there.
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think like a movie

ZOOM RIGHT IN ON THE ACTION
Imagine you're creating a movie. Describe the frame of your shot. Write the trailer.

Be specific

USE CONCRETE DETAILS
Some people might say this dog is staring. Others might note that the snaggle-toothed bulldog casts a disbelieving glance across the lawn. Be specific. Make your reader see what you see.
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"DIALOGUE

IS GREAT, TOO!"
Did someone say something deep or hilarious or hilariously deep? Quote them!
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K.I.S.S.

KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID
I know we're pushing you to learn new vocab words. (Favorite vocab word we learned together: donnybrook.)
Don't use them when you write. Write in your voice. If it's too slang and colloquial, we can always go edit later. For now, just get it down on the page. The story is most important.
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Write it all

FILTER LATER
Ignore the word limit for now. Overwrite. Just as a sculptor starts with a huge chunk of ice, so must you start with a huge chunk of writing.

send your inner editor

OUT OF THE ROOM
Finally, send that nasty inner editor out of the room. You know the one. "That's not the right word... that's stupid... is that even a good idea at all?" Tell him that mama's gotta write and you'll invite him back later. Get stuff written first.
Photo by Leo Reynolds