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10/13/2001 - Show, Don't Tell

Teleplay Tips & Tricks

Show, Don't Tell

I've probably said this before, but since it's THE most important aspect of writing for films and television it can't hurt to say it again. SHOW what happens, don't just tell about it.

This means that whenever possible the audience should see key events happening onscreen. Don't have the White House Press Secretary announcing that President Bartlet has decided to run again. Instead, show him deciding.

Notice that I said "deciding," and not "announcing." As writers we have to present the series of events in his life that give him the need to make the decision, and then the events that shape it. Just showing that it's campaign time isn't enough, and merely having the president turn to his chief aide and say, "I'm going to do it," isn't enough either.

The audience needs what comes in between. It needs to understand what motivates the character, and to agree with the response. Without knowledge, identifying with the hero is almost impossible, and if we don't enable the audience to identify with the hero, why the heck should they turn on the show or go to the film?


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