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  • Stephanie Bourbon

How to Show & Not Tell--I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas




Hello, writers!!!

So, today, I'm talking about the oh so evil words that no writer and no book coach or developmental editor wants to say "SHOW vs TELL"

But this is a real thing and writers often struggle.

Usually, when I'm coaching writers, I try to give examples from my real life.


Like, I'll often say "it's a million degrees..." so that shows you a couple of things about me.


1. I probably don't like hot weather and

2. I exaggerate to make a point. Right?

I speak a certain way that shows who I am.

I say "it's wicked hot" as well, so you could surmise that I grew up in New England.


I also use a lot of pop-culture references, which shows you that I love pop culture and possibly work in entertainment? Maybe?

It's the same in our writing.


So often I'm reading a writer's pages and there is so much info-dumping or what is called backstory that they are 100% certain the reader must know so they tell us everything and usually, it comes off quite forensic.


Now, this brings me to an especially important time in the novel when you must NOT tell, the opening pages, and yet time after time writers fill these pages with so many info dumps. They tell us everything that ever happened to the main character or their family, but we'll get into first pages again later. Right now, let's dive into an example from a popular holiday song that SHOWS us everything we need to know about this character.


I want a hippopotamus for Christmas



I want a hippopotamus for Christmas - We immediately know what she wants Only a hippopotamus will do -this shows that she has put some thought into it I don't want a doll, no dinky Tinkertoy - shows us that she is a kid I want a hippopotamus to play with and enjoy I want a hippopotamus for Christmas I don't think Santa Claus will mind, do you? BOOM--I'm hooked. This character is thinking about how Santa will approve this gift.. there's more.

He won't have to use our dirty chimney flue Just bring him through the front door That's the easy thing to do - she has this all worked out! So we get the sense that she is taking matters into her own hands. I can see me now on Christmas morning Creeping down the stairs -this is my favorite line from this song. The use of the word CREEPING tells us so much! She could have said sneaking, walking, running, barreling but she said CREEPING. You get an immediate sense of WHO she is and it's clear. Oh, what joy and what surprise When I open up my eyes To see a hippo hero standing there - now we know how she will feel, and it shows again how much she really has thought about this-but wait, there's more. I want a hippopotamus for Christmas Only a hippopotamus will do No crocodiles, or rhinoceroseses I only like hippopotamuseses And hippopotamuses like me too


Mom says the hippo would eat me up - her mom has tried to talk her out of it but she's not having it. But then teacher says a hippo is a vegetarian -she's gone and done research on it!!! Brilliant.

There's lots of room for him in our two-car garage I'd feed him there and wash him there And give him his massage she has a plan of where to keep him even. She has this all figured out since the adults in her life aren't helping.

I can see me now on Christmas morning Creeping down the stairs Oh, what joy and what surprise When I open up my eyes To see a hippo hero standing there I want a hippopotamus for Christmas Only a hippopotamus will do No crocodiles, or rhinocerosesesesses I only like hippopotamusesesses And hippopotamuses like me too


So, what do we know about our protagonist?

She is a child and the type A type who takes matters into her own hands. She does her research and she is a go-getter, and she doesn't settle. Yet, nowhere in there does it say that but the writer of this song has SHOWN US!!


You can find this song on Spotify and other sources.


I hope you found this helpful. Your homework is to take a song you love and break it down! Write who the character is and a bit about their personality! It's a great writing exercise.


BTW this character--who wants this hippo? That was me as a kid LOL


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