Hey fellow screenwriters: What would be your top 3 tips on how to "show, not tell"?
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1 - Write a scene without dialogue and have someone read it. 2 - Draw/storyboard the action from a scene and try to write it as you see it. 3 - Get one or two friends and act out the movements within a scene without the dialogue. When you can't rely on dialogue, you'll find that your descriptions become much more descriptive.
Again, another 200 page book that won't fit in this tiny box... 1) Start with a character who lives an "active lifestyle"... BREAKING AWAY is about a kid obsessed with bicycle racing. 2) Give the characters a physical decision to make that shows what they are thinking and feeling. 3) Challenge yourself to turn a dialogue scene into a scene where the story is shown through the actions of the characters. It's all about what the characters do.
Thanks, Anthony and William, for the input! I appreciate it!
Becca: watch the "CASABLANCA" scene in the bazaar -- where Ilsa is looking at lace and Rick comes to talk about why she ran out on him. Superb subtext that shows and does not tell.
I agree with Anthony Moore. I would add an exercise I've done when I overdo the dialogue. I'll take the scene and literally try to remove each line dialogue and replace it with action, something visual the audience can watch without words, but still infer exactly what's going on. As an off-the-cuff example: BEFORE: INT. KITCHEN - DAY It's morning - Johnny sits at the table reading the paper. Jenny is whipping up breakfast. Last night's argument still lingers in the air. Johnny Are you still not talking to me? Jenny Now you care? Johnny Honey, I-- Jenny Shut up. Johnny So we're not talking or we are? Etc... Instead, use no words, something like: INT. KITCHEN - DAY It's morning - Johnny sits at the table reading the paper. Jenny is whipping up breakfast. Last night's argument still lingers in the air. Johnny looks sidelong at Jenny. He opens his mouth to speak, thinks better of it, flips the paper straight and pretends to keep reading. Whipping up breakfast? Make that thrashing. She clangs and clatters pans and spatulas. Eggs and potatoes splatter onto a plate, the counter, and even the floor. She spins around with the plate, takes five angry strides to the table, and slams the plate in front of Johnny. The force makes the eggs and potatoes jump. Johnny looks at his plate. His nose twitches as he assesses his chances of being poisoned. He looks around the table for a fork. None. She rolls her eyes and walks away. He sighs and begins to stand only to be stopped by Jenny's hand stabbing a fork into the middle of his eggs. He watches the fork quiver, amazed that anyone can make a fork stand up in a pile of scrambled eggs. Jenny whips around and rages silently back to the counter. Johnny carefully picks up the fork and begins picking at his eggs. As he raises his first bite to his half-open mouth, Jenny returns and slams a coffee cup down in front of him. She holds a coffee pot in her other hand. He closes his mouth, laden fork still floating there. He looks up at her. She glares at him. He ventures a weak smile. She pours the coffee... into his lap. -------- Yeah, it ain't poetry, but you get the picture. Nobody would mistake the fact that the two of them are having a fight. We can pick up that he's the pisser offer and she's the pissee. He doesn't know how to proceed and she's not ready to tell him. There is so much you can do without dialogue in the movies because, unlike the stage, which is mostly about dialogue and has to play to folks far away, you can use any angle, close or far, to show anything you want to. I think an exercise like this (and I don't remember who I originally got it from) helps us to learn to think more visually. Obviously you want to have tight, snappy dialogue. Actors love to say really cool shit :) But if you emphasize the action, then you can carefully place what dialogue you need where it will really have impact and amp up the scene. Hope this helps a little :)
I think one of the best approaches is to throw in plenty of distractions, diversions, and contradictions. Anything that muddies the waters of direct exposition "telling" forces us to "show" some other way.
Hi, Becca, I don't have the document at hand but I came across a table online which had all the emotions a character goes through, paired with body language and facial expressions which display this emotion so instead of you going "Carla was embarrassed" you go "Carla blushed" and instead of saying "Carla looked at Martha with a confused expression" you can say "Carla looked at Martha, her brow furrowed." Also when it comes to revealing information, try and avoid exposition as much as you can, for example instead of using exposition in my latest script to display that my character is hoping to break into broadway I just started the script with her in an audition. Hope this helps.
I have done the following. I had a character react in horror after witnessing violence. Rather than state they a pacifist. I do a lot of this in the action. "Kim crosses the room with a - I am going to kill you - look on her face".
Stay away from passive verbs as much as possible: Get into the present with deep point of view, and immediacy when it comes to the action an dialog.
Focusing on actions that express emotion is an effective way to show instead of tell.
Wow, THANK YOU all for the great responses! So much to absorb, which is good. :)
Jim- the Emotion Thesaurus sounds really interesting!
Sonibel, thanks for the comment. Searching, found this on Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/258605203578870937/ Should get me going with ideas. :)
@Jim, I love the Emotion Thesaurus. Bought it a few years ago. Good recommendation!