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Show Don't Tell_Ashley_Brantley


What Is Show Don't Tell
"Show don't tell" is and old phrase that instructs us to create visual cues that allow our audiences to be submerged within the story enough to experience it by revealing our story and characters through actions and sensory details instead of dialogue or the writer's own description of events. As simple as this concept seems, it can be challenging to actually implement. Hopefully after reading this article, you'll be able to identify when you're telling more than you're showing and turn that talky script into a visual piece that lands you the success that you desire as a screenwriter.

Identifying Telling In Scripts
It's important to note that telling is a natural aspect of storytelling. The key to writing a great script is knowing what to tell and show as well as when to tell and show. Telling within scripts happen when the writer is telling us what is happening instead of showing us what's happening through visual cues. I should add, that there are times where "telling" is appropriate, however, the bulk of your creative writing should be visual. Surprisingly, the writers that tell more than they show within their scripts may not even realize that they're doing it. Check out the examples below, to discover what telling within a script looks like.
Telling Example:
Read over the script to the left. It's a great example of a writer that is telling us what's happening through narration instead of showing us what's happening through action. There are tons of scripts full of visually flat writing just like this. These kinds of talky scripts don't give readers an opportunity to imagine and experience the story and characters because it's telling us everything going on. There are two important elements that this script, and ultimately any script that's visually dead or flat, is missing. They are...

1. Sensory Details
2. Strong Adjectives

Sensory Details
Sensory details are words that appeal to our physical senses. These words help the reader get submerged within the story enough to actually experience it because these words evoke their emotions and imagination. Knowing how to utilize sensory details to create a smooth visual experience for readers is the science aspect of the art of creative writing. As there are a multitude of senses, there are a multitude of different sensory words.

1. Sight Sensory Details
Sight sensory details describes how something looks. Here, powerful adjectives are used to help the reader see what's going on within the story and shows how the character is feeling internally.

Sight Sensory Details Example
2. Auditory Sensory Details
Auditory sensory details describe how something sounds within a scene. Auditory sensory details are great at describing the character's perception of what's going on within the scene.

Auditory Sensory Details Example
3. Sensory Details to Describe Touch
Touch sensory details describes how something feels.

Touch Sensory Details Example
There are hundreds of more sensory details or words that could be utilized to enhance your scripts by making them more show than tell. Hopefully the examples above helps you catch the drift. The next important element often missing from visually flat scripts are strong adjectives.

Strong Adjectives
An adjective is a word that describes or modifies a noun. Strong adjectives are the words that help us describe things within our writing in an effective way that doesn't make our work seem boring, repetitive or mediocre. For example...

"William, well-groomed and swanky, steps out of his condo's elevator and directly into his posh and state of art living room.

Sounds so much better than...

"William, a rich executive, walks into his fancy home."

Strong adjectives gives us the ability to display a scene or character in a more creative way that will hold the audience and keep readers flipping to the next page.

The Application
Now that we've discovered the two elements needed to create a visual masterpiece, let's go back to the first example shown previously within this article and write a better version of it with more sensory details and strong adjectives (shown in the image below).

Film and screenwriting are heavy visual mediums and a great script is one that enables readers to vividly imagine the story at hand. It's important for all screenwriters and creative writers alike to understand how to show the audience what's going on, instead of simply describing the action in which they see. Writing visually can be a challenge because it requires the writer to imagine themselves within the moment in which they are trying to portray, but it's a must if writers want others to like or get excited about reading their work. Two tools at every writer's disposal are sensory details and strong adjectives. Implementing these two tools and discovering how to show more than tell your audience what's going on could enhance your scripts effectivity dramatically.

Written By

Ashley Brantley

August, 22, 2022

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