Turning Your Words into “Pictures” for Magazine Stories

Creating magazine stories that pull your readers in requires dialogue and action. It’s called SHOWING instead of TELLING. Editors sometimes write “SDT” on manuscripts. What’s that stand for? SHOW don’t TELL.

SHOWING is especially important when writing a magazine story where illustrations are limited to usually two or three at the most. Your words must create the rest of the illustrations in the mind of the reader.
I’m going to use an example of how to SHOW instead of TELL from a Christmas story I wrote for a magazine. The following is NOT the way I actually wrote this portion of my story. If I had written it this way, it never would have been published!

This is TELLING:

The innkeeper’s son ran to his father to tell him about the amazing star, but his father was too busy to care. He had an inn full of tired, hungry guests to serve. The father told his son to fill a jug of water for the guests and to hurry back. A few minutes later the boy ran back to his father to ask if there were any rooms left. His father told him the inn was full. His son was worried about the pregnant woman and her husband he had just met. He knew they desperately needed a room. Even though the boy pleaded with his father to find room for the couple, his father insisted there was nothing he could do.

Snore, snore! ZZZZZZZ. Oh, sorry, I fell asleep. That was BORING—boring beyond belief! I merely gave the reader INFORMATION. There was no action whatsoever. This kind of writing will not pull your readers into the story and get them emotionally involved. Basically, your readers just won’t care. They’ll want to take a nap (o;

This is SHOWING:

“A star?” the boy’s father said as he lifted a heavy water jug onto his shoulder. “I don’t have time to look at a star. We have an inn full of tired, hungry guests to serve.”
“But Father, I’ve never seen anything like it! It’s amazing and it’s right over our—“
“Son, please! It’s only a star. I’ve seen thousands of them.” His father shook is head then thrust a clay jug into the boys arms.
“What I really need is for you to stop star gazing and help me. Fill this jug at the well, and hurry. Our guests are waiting.”
It wasn’t long before the boy bolted back through the doorway, out of breath. “Father! Are there any rooms left?”
“Son, the inn is bursting at the seams. I gave the last room away hours ago.”
“You’ve got to find something,” the boy pleaded. “There’s a man and woman who need a room. They can’t stay on the streets of Bethlehem.”
The boy’s father threw his hands in the air. “Hundreds of people need a place to stay. We don’t have room for everyone!”
The boy grabbed hold of his father’s arm. “But Father, she’s going to have a baby—NOW!”

Do you see how I gave the reader the information that was in my first example, but in a way that made it come alive through action and dialogue? I wanted the reader to sense the excitement and the urgency the boy felt. SHOWING pulls your readers into your story. It makes them care.

Flip through your favorite children’s magazines. Notice how the writer uses dialogue and action. As you read, think about the “illustrations” that SHOWING has created in your mind. Can you “see” with your mind’s eye what’s happening in the story? If you like what you’re reading—it has everything to do with “SDT”.

Copyright 2008 Sheryl Ann Crawford


3 responses to “Turning Your Words into “Pictures” for Magazine Stories

  1. marilyn donahue

    Sherri, you used dialogue beautifully to tell the story with excitement and passion. Thanks for reminding us to “show, not tell.”

  2. Gloria McQueen Stockstill

    Great example of show, not tell. I loved the story! I want to read the rest!!


  3. Shirley Shibley

    Right on, Sherri! This is such important information, and you made a great example of “do” and “don’t.” Like I said in the beginning, Write on, Sherri!


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