1. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Screenwriting: show, don't tell

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Aaron DC, Jun 10, 2015.

    I am watching something, and the actor taps their thumbs - bored, or impatient.

    I thought - that's showing us [internal state], rather than telling us through thought or monolog / dialog.

    Unless actors constantly do voice overs - which for a multi character scene would be kinda weird - then the screen play (showing my complete lack of experience in nomenclature here) would be all about showing, rather than telling yeah?

    Do you think it would be worthwhile to write (a) script / screenplay to get used to describing character movement and facial expression and non-verbal communication where it's almost a necessity.

    Realising rules should be understood, not religiously adhered to.

    But for the experience / skill development?
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2015
  2. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    I have no interest in writing plays, but I thought about it for the sake of making sure the characters are clear from dialogue alone.
     
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  3. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The action that you see on screen is a combination of the screenwriter(s), producer(s), director(s), and actor(s). A screenplay would probably not tell the actor to tap their thumb unless it was really important for some reason; that was likely the decision of the actor. In addition, scripts are not limited to "showing": they use "telling" as well to good effect.

    Now that those misconceptions are out of the way, I'm not sure writing a script would help much for what you're looking for. Is the issue that you are still learning how to "show" or that you are still learning when to "show" and when to "tell"? If the issue is the former, maybe instead of writing a script you could watch a movie and write brief descriptions of whatever sticks out to you when an actor makes a specific emotion?
     
  4. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It very likely would, actually, depending on the script. It might just be brief, leaving room for additional details. Now, it is up to the director whether to leave it in or not, but it's not uncommon at all for scripts to dictate the finite action of the characters.

    With the above in mind, I don't know that it would help you much, since you'd be telling the action, if that makes sense.

    Consider:

    The clock strikes 10. Aaron fidgets and takes a drink of water from the coffee table at stage right.

    AARON: Let's get this show on the road, Doc.


    Does that format help you with this concept? Or is it just more of the same? I feel like the "showing" portion would be much less detailed and descriptive than what you're after.

    With that said, I think most writers stand to gain a lot of insight by switching genres every now and then, so I certainly don't think it would hurt in any way.
     
  5. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    As I said, it is possible to be in a script. But he seemed to be indicating that all or at least many of the actions are written out, when in reality only the important actions are. In your writing example, the actor is said to fidget and take a drink from his water. His facial expression is not listed. His posture is not listed. Etc., etc. I took it that the OP thought scripts describe in more detail than that, so that was the point of my comment. I think we're in agreement here, even though we came about it from different angles.
     
  6. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think so, too. :)
     
  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suspect that this would restrict the actors to a degree that would be unproductive. I'm thinking of an actress in our local repertory theater who has a particular wonderful self-deprecating smile. But that's HER way of communicating a particular set of emotions. A different actress would have a different set of wonderful expressions and gestures. If you don't let each actor use what they have, you eliminate much of their value.
     
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  8. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I like this idea.
     
  9. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I think I know what I meant in my mind, and excitedly posted it as an idea here without really exploring what I was (not quite) seeing as I watched the movie and a little light flicked on at seeing an actor act out an internal state rather than telling me about it.

    A whole other conversation but this is getting to the crux of my intent. I have no experience writing fiction and am looking at / for patterns and exercises to do to develop literary flexibility and skills to help me with my primary project - which is books + movie. I do not want to start them until I have
    1. finished the research I feel I need to finish
    2. developed some writing skills

    I agree. I think I misrepresented my intent.

    This is closest, most likely, to what I was seeing / feeling / intuiting as I watched a scene of a TV series. But rather than write brief descriptions, it was more to write an entire scene, or even an entire episode, from the POV of someone watching the scene. Not as the way to write a scene or episode, but more for the practice of or development of a skill in communicating what is going on in a character, what their internal state is through action or adjectival description of expression or movement, rather than "Sally looked sad", kinda thing.
     
  10. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    This could be done in either screenwriting or prose fiction form. The former would be more directly applicable, but maybe the latter give you a different mindset to work with? I think that could work. Maybe you could watch a scene, write it that way, and then immediately after write in in fiction prose? That might help you to make the connection between those writing styles quicker.

    I'm not an expert or even someone I'd call good at writing fiction prose yet, but I used to think that this was my problem, too. I found out that my actual problem is I didn't when to use "showing" and when to use "telling" in a cohesive way that worked well. I'm not sure if this is your problem, but IMO it's something to keep in mind. There are a lot of situations where even elegantly describing a character's minute actions would be bad.

    Good luck.
     
  11. RevGeo
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    RevGeo Member

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    I think I would read a bunch of classic screenplays. No better way of learning a craft than studying the work of the pros.
     

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