Ellen looked at the rejection letter again and reread it one more time. ‘Show don’t tell’ it demanded. What in the heck did that mean anyway she wondered. All she knew was show and tell, not show don’t tell. That was because she had been an elementary school teacher all her life having taught every grade from kindergarten through fifth and Show and Tell had been a weekly routine for her in the younger grades. In fact Show and Tell was the very reason why she had written the story in the first place. A cute charming little story about a most unusual object a child had brought to Show and Tell the other day. But not knowing where to send her story to get it published she went to where everyone everywhere goes nowadays for answers, that electronic Wizard, the internet, who spews out the answers to all your problems. Here she found countless magazines looking for all kinds of stories about all kinds of topics and she found it way too overwhelming for her to ingest and digest all in one fell swoop or scoop. In fact it gave her mind mental indigestion. Finally she just gave up rather than waste any more time dithering here and there looking for the perfect magazine for her perfect story. So she picked one at random and submitted. Eighty six days later she was greeted with the ‘Show Don’t Tell’ rejection letter.
Knocked for a loop at first she picked herself up and counter punched. One tells stories. One doesn’t show stories she muttered. One says, “tell me a bedtime story or tell us a ghost story,” not show me a bedtime story or show us a ghost story. Aesop’s Fables were stories. Grimm's Fairy Tales were stories. Jesus' parables were stories. They weren’t showables. One shows pictures, show me a picture of your family, not tell me a picture of your family. One goes to an art show not to an art tell. Pictures show. Stories tell. But now she realized that she’d have to erase all that from her mind if she ever wanted to get published.
So she looked up the definition of ‘show don’t tell’, on the internet of course, and after reading countless articles by countless literary experts came to the conclusion that showing was upper class literature. Whereas telling was definitely lower class common man pedestrian literature and that’s why her story, which evidently was telling not showing, was DOA.
Ellen got to thinking further and wondered who in the heck was this editor guy anyway who had rejected her story. Again the internet provided her with an answer. He was some sort of self proclaimed writer/editor with some kind of creative writing degree, maybe a master’s degree even, but she wasn’t going to waste her time looking up what all these letters meant that she wouldn’t understand anyway. He also cited his website and his numerous publications, which he ‘told’ us were for sale on Amazon of course.
So Ellen decided that before she submitted again she’d look up some other online magazines. Check them and their editors out first this time. But after a few such searches she got the same results again. All the editors had the same indecipherable creative writing degrees from numerous universities and colleges some of which she had never even heard of. The only conclusion that she drew from all this was there must be big money out there in selling such degrees. After all this is America now isn’t it where if one can bottle, package, and sell snake oil, more power to ‘em. Thank you Lydia Pinkham and you too P.T. Barnum.
All these college references brought back to Ellen memories of her college days and it suddenly dawned upon her how taking a test back then was like this story writing business today. All she had to do to pass a test back then was to regurgitate whatever the professor wanted to hear. She always looked forward to the first test because it ‘told’ her exactly that. Told her how the professor thought, his or her mind frame, what he or she was looking for by way of a written answer and thus how to phrase her answer accordingly. In other words, how to give the professor what he wanted to hear. Only here however it was to give the editor what he wanted to read.
Also while during her research of the literary magazine world she came upon the repeated phrase ‘a good fit.’A story had to be a ‘good fit’ for their magazine in order to get published. It could be the most beautifully crafted story ever written, or shown that is, but if it wasn’t a ‘good fit’ for their magazine it went down the black hole of the internet trash can.
So she, the former school teacher who always had things under control in the classroom, was confident now that she finally had things under control here too and decided to submit again. So after careful review of a number of magazines she chose one where she’d ‘show’ her story and where she thought her story would be a good fit. She’d feed this editor the edible words his literary body literally craved. Write a cotton candy swirl of pink sugary airy words and top it all off with the peanutty goodness of a chewy chocolatey Snickers bar. He’d eat it up, but without relish. Rewrite that story of hers that had been rejected. After all, it was a perfect fit. A story about a little girl who brought to Show and Tell a replica of her pet poodle Fifi that she had made out of Snickers bars and cotton candy. That was because Fifi had died and her mother ‘told’ her she couldn’t bring the dead Fifi to Show and Tell.